Published: Wednesday, March 3, 1993
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B6


New Orleans

I was deeply offended by a statement in The Times-Picayune Feb. 28. According to the article, "the (New Orleans City Planning) Commission's one outspoken advocate of preservation, Renna Godchaux, did not put up much of a fight."

Really? I could have stood shouting all the things I was thinking. Indeed I wanted to. But such a public display is not my manner.

Instead, I said in the most gracious voice I could muster that in 1972 I had written the rationale for the creation of the Historic District Landmark Commission and that the purpose of the legislation then and now was the protection of our many old and precious neighborhoods.

I pointed out that in the early '70s, buildings with granite pillars and lintels were being destroyed in a wholesale manner to make way for surface parking lots. I stated in what I believed to be a clear and easily heard voice that it was, indeed, the destruction of buildings precisely like the ones in question that was the raison d'etre for the creation of the CBD Historic District.

Tragically, the destruction of these buildings is but a small part of the potential damage of this development (the casino at the Rivergate site).

My other concerns were not quoted by the press. In the opening moments of the meeting, I spoke of the project's potential for overwhelming damage. I recommended deferral of the entire project.

One of my concerns, which I thought I clearly stated, is the economic viability of the project. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and, most recently, Forbes magazine have all made much the same point. Gambling is a bubble about to burst. Inevitably, there will be too much in too many locations.

In our own city, Christopher Hemmeter would not, in reality, have a monopoly. This casino will be in competition with six riverboat casinos that offer particular appeal to upscale tourists and convention parties.

Yet Mr. Hemmeter projects higher revenues than those of the world's most successful casino, the Taj Mahal, located in an area (Atlantic City) with a regional population six times larger than ours. Based on this and on other revenue-related projections by Mr. Hemmeter, Forbes projects his annual losses at $64 million.

If he should be bankrupted, there will be no 25,000 promised jobs. Rather, there will be pain and suffering for many. Workers, distributors, myriad people will be hurt in much the same way that innocent people suffered from the 1984 world's fair fiasco.

What I did not say at the commission meeting, but what I do believe, is that we are building not the world's largest casino but rather the world's largest (and out-of-scale) Hula Hoop.

The environmental impact of the large garages will, I believe, be disastrous in every way, as I clearly stated in detail. I quoted statements from the Audubon Institute and the Tulane School of Architecture.

In my one loss of composure, I said to my fellow commission members, "Were you sitting through public hearings with earmuffs, did you not hear the concerns of group after group, citizen after citizen?"

What was not discussed at the meeting was traffic flow. The commission is waiting for the Wilbur Smith traffic report. If it recommends street changes in the Warehouse District, one of this nation's most successful urban revitalization areas will be irreparably damaged.

The rules of ethics governing the commission have prevented me from saying anything concerning a matter coming before the commission. Now I can speak.

The proposed site, positioned between our two most fragile neighborhoods, is a monstrous mistake. Certainly, I am aware of state legislation and the political situation in Baton Rouge. But little in this world cannot be changed. On this issue, it's our responsibility to speak out.

The role of the commission is land-use planning in the best interest of our city and its citizens. The plan now pending before the City Council is not in any aspect in the best interest of this city that I so love. I consider it not a plan but a one-way ticket to an everlasting nightmare.

The stakes are high. At risk is the fragile fabric of our city. At risk is the unique character of our city, the base on which our tourist industry has been built. At risk is our very soul.

It is our responsibility as good citizens to stand up, to be counted and to fight. To give up in defeat over a "done deal" is neither wise nor courageous.

Renna Godchaux
Member, City Planning Commission

Copyright The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.