We only have one downtown

Editors note: This column has been updated since original print version.

The Daily Report e-newsletter reported last week that renovations should start in the next few weeks on a 1,500-seat live music club downtown. Todd Chamber says he plans to open a House of Blues–type club that would bring in national and local performers. The club will feature two stages and a rooftop deck wrapping around the Coca-Cola sign. Scott Ritter, the architect who is designing the bar, says the plan is to make big changes that will break with the past use of the space.

This follows previous news from Daily Report that Lucy’s of New Orleans is also going to open on Third Street. And then there’s Stroube’s Chophouse, now open at Third and North Boulevard, and Varnadoe’s, coming to the Kress at Third and Main. Puncher’s and The Office are other new additions to Third Street.

Downtown also sports new residential space. One Eleven, the new condos between the Shaw Center and the Roux House, are about full. I am told all of the apartments and condos in the Kress at Third and Main are spoken for as well. And there could be more residential space on the way, which is key.

Davis Rhorer of the Downtown Development District tells me that the arts and entertainment area has been designated and design standards have been set. Outdoor dining has been allowed for some time. And recently a cultural district has established incentives for galleries. Rhorer says things are moving ahead on the town square design for North Boulevard and discussions continue regarding the library.

Andres Duany, who in 1998 began the charette process for Plan Baton Rouge and spurred the rejuvenation of downtown, was back in town recently for the Smart Growth Summit. In The Advocate he said about our decade of progress, “What’s been done here is a model of what other cities can and should do. Cities make all the sense in the world. They have the best location. The infrastructure is in place. Their competition is not with other cities. It’s with their own suburbs.”

According to Rhorer, since that time in 1998, $2.36 billion in downtown projects have either been built, are under construction or in the planning stage, with more than 65% being by the private sector. We need all of our parish to realize and embrace one downtown on the river. There is no “downtown Zachary” or “downtown Central” or “downtown Baker” or “downtown area” on O’Neal or Siegen Lane. They don’t exist and never will. Baton Rouge is one of 50 capital cities and it has one downtown. Let’s all support ours and enjoy it like other cities do.

Advocate shows true colors

I have already written about the antics and reporting bias of “M&M” [Mark Ballard and Marsha Shuler] at The Advocate‘s Capitol Bureau. But I think I may have to make it “M, M, M&C”—adding Michelle Millhollon and Carl Redman, the executive editor.

No newspaper in the state has amassed as large a volume of negative ink on Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has maintained a majority positive rating since he took office. But I have come to chalk that up to the arrogance of this news staff, who somehow believe because they are the daily newspaper in the capital city they have some privilege and deserve unlimited access. Get over yourself.

Let’s take, for instance, the Sept. 3 Advocate. The top story on the front page, with a five-column headline, regarded a letter from a pastor asking for the governor to reimburse the state for helicopter expenses. The Times-Picayune had basically the same story, but ran it on page A-2, with a one-column headline, middle of the page. Ironically, in the same Advocate was a letter to the editor from another pastor, a retired chaplain, in support of Jindal’s travels; of course, it appeared as the last letter at the bottom of page 8B.

And what was the reason The Advocate didn’t give any background on this minister and the Interfaith Alliance or the Alliance of Baptists, which he is affiliated with? I think the readers would be very interested in the context and their agenda. The Advocate always goes to great lengths to give backgrounds and information on political donations for anyone connected to or appointed by the governor. Why not the detail on the Rev. Gaddy? Bias or just bad reporting?

Since this was worthy of a front page story, you would think The Advocate might include information on this denomination [Alliance of Baptists] and refer to their statements on climate change, economic justice, Cuba, racism and repentance, conscientious objection and same-sex marriage. Or the writer could have shared some of the commentary written by Gaddy in his blog about the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. He wrote, “Our nation has lost a visionary patriot, Interfaith Alliance has lost a courageous colleague, and the poorest and weakest people in this land have lost a vigorous advocate… My first association with Senator Kennedy came in the early 1970s when I worked with him on early initiatives to secure national health care.”

No, Gaddy is not just some Baptist country preacher from Monroe—oh, the contrary. In fact, his hometown daily, the Monroe News Star, disagrees with him and defends Jindal. Its editorial said, “No governor in recent memory has traveled so frequently and with such unabashed enthusiasm to remote corners of our state as Bobby Jindal has. We’ve welcomed Jindal to chamber of commerce functions, where he’s talked about business and the local economy… We’ve welcomed him to our churches, too… The church visits appear to trouble some Louisianans, who believe they cross the line of separation that should be drawn between church and state. We respectfully disagree.?? No one has ever demanded that Jindal reimburse the state for travel to civic group luncheons or chamber of commerce functions. We’ve heard no complaints that he should pay his way to college commencements… Why should churches necessarily be different, more controversial destinations, than other institutions? In all cases, Jindal meets Louisianans where they live their lives… There’s a value, too, in his example of service that far outweighs the price tag.”

The fact is, this governor is going to travel the state; the citizens love it. So the helicopter is going to fly to these cities, regardless of whether it is on a Wednesday or a Sunday. The fact is, the governor is working on Wednesday and giving up his Sunday—and if by that he can get to more places and see more of the folks he serves, and who pay his salary, then all the better. I can assure you none of those folks will be talking about helicopter expenses.

In addition to the weak story overplayed on the front page, in the same Sept. 3 issues of The Advocate and Times-Picayune there was the really important story on streamlining government in the face of future budget cuts. The Advocate gave it four columns on page 12A. The Times-Picayune had the same story on streamlining as a three-column on page A-2. Is this just a case of differing news judgments, or a clear case of bias and a grudge against Jindal?

In its Sept. 4 edition, The Advocate again went with a 5-column headline at the top of the front page on the same topic, repeating Gaddy’s claim and quoting Jindal as saying his actions were “appropriate.” This time the story gave a little more info on Gaddy and his organization and even quoted the editorial above from the Monroe News-Star. As if a second lead story was not enough, in that same edition The Advocate also ran an editorial on the issue, saying, “Ostentatious political piety is as old as the Republic. Jindal is not the first offender, nor will he be the last.” Not to let a dead horse go unkicked, they added an editorial cartoon. Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune had no follow-up story, and their editorial on Sept. 5 was on the downsizing of the state auto fleet, which they applauded. What a contrast.

As a friend of mine said last week, “It seems The Advocate has written more about Jindal going to church than about all of Edwards’ philandering when he was governor.”

I have shared on a number of occasions my relationship with the governor, and so has The Advocate. The difference is I have been straightforward, and I share my opinions in my opinion column. What about The Advocate?

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