Yenni seeks second term as mayor of Kenner
31st March 2014 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
Mayor Mike Yenni’s eyes light up when he shares his dream for Kenner’s Lakefront.
“I see the future of Laketown as a true regional destination. My vision is the development of the land into restaurants, storefronts, and recreational spaces that will draw large crowds to the area and we are well on our way to this vision becoming a reality. Prime lakefront property is perfect for commerce and economic development. Laketown is Kenner’s future,” the Mayor put simply.
The vision of Laketown is a new Pontchartrain Beach-like amusement park, and a boardwalk of restaurants reminiscent of Orleans’ West End in its pre-Katrina heyday. It’s a luxury lakefront hotel and casino complex replacing the current aging riverboat gaming facility, with walkways trimming the waterside, and an amphitheater built atop a parking garage.
And according to Yenni, it would all be built with private money. “I would not support a millage or sales tax to gain this goal as I feel private developers will be highly interested in developing this property via private funding,” he added, noting that “my team and I worked with state officials and the lease was amended to allow commercial development on the property.” Kenner prepares the way, and provides the facilities in a public/private partnership, laying the groundwork for the private sector to invest million in the project.
It is the kind of creative solutions that Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni prides himself upon. For a city that fell from Louisiana’s fifth largest to sixth, Kenner is experiencing the outmigration that many inner ring suburbs have experienced across the nation in recent years.
New Orleans is growing once more, at the expense of its suburbs, and Yenni’s fight of that trend embarked on a campaign to make sure that everything a resident might need, from shopping to amenities, would be available in Kenner. Part of that pride comes from the effort to keep the Esplanade Mall alive, to provide those retail choices.
Responding to those who said the shopping center was dying, Yenni pointed to the new Target and the recently opened Solomon Theatre, flanked by a remodeled Macy’s and a Dillard’s outlet open six days a week. “The Esplanade Mall is viable. What is happening at the Mall is not confined to our location in Kenner. This is a national change and an adjustment being made by cities across the Nation. Internet sales have caused many national organizations to downsize. This trend is unfortunate, but we are working hard with the Simon Malls to combat it. The addition of Target and now the new movie theatre will surely provide a positive impact on the future of the Mall.”
But, choices are not the only angle of quality of life. Seeing the effect that beautification efforts have led to new residents in Metairie, and across unincorporated Jefferson, Yenni embarked on a controversial bond effort to massively beautify Kenner. The Kenner 2030 plan involves tree-lined medians replacing the “suicide turning lanes” of Williams Blvd, and art and nature displays across his city.
In fact, that effort, and improving Kenner’s crumbling infrastructure, is the central theme as to why Mike Yenni seeks a second term as Kenner Mayor. “I am running to continue the progress that my team and I, along with the city council have brought about in Kenner. From over $60 million in grant funding, to the development of the Kenner 2030 plan, to the significant improvements to our sewerage infrastructure, my first term was packed with progress that will bring about a rebirth in Kenner. I am running to continue these initiatives and bring about many more to the city.”
“A portion of the Kenner 2030 plan includes the redevelopment of many corridors throughout the city. This is the facelift Kenner needs to become the attractive community of choice it once was. It also addresses the redevelopment of public works infrastructure that has been neglected for quite some time. The funding for the redevelopment of these corridors will be handled by a bond refinance passed by the Kenner City Council. Taking advantage of lower interest rates has produced the funding necessary for the vision of these projects to become a reality.”
In fact, Yenni sees these infrastructure matched with beautification proposals as key to getting younger people to move into his city. “By bringing initiatives such as the 2030 plan to fruition, working cooperatively with the airport during its expansion, and taking necessary steps to revitalize Rivertown and Laketown, the younger generation will be more attracted to the city and the idea of raising their families here. Redeveloped infrastructure and economic development are keys, as well as creating educational opportunity. We are excited to now have a successful charter school in Kenner, KDHSA and look forward to its success and expansion.”
It’s not an academic argument for Yenni, who was born in Kenner, is the grandson of a Kenner Mayor (& Parish President) and has lived his whole life in the suburban city. It’s about family, legacy, and the future. “This past year, my wife and I welcomed our first child, my daughter Reagan. She is seven months now, and every day, I still look at her and think about the fact that my purpose is to make her life the best it can possibly be. It is my responsibility to create an environment in which she will flourish. I want her to grow up with pride in her hometown just as I did. I want her to have access to the best possible resources and the utmost opportunity. As Mayor, I have the outlets to ensure that this happens for her and the rest of the young children and families in Kenner.”
Yenni is equally concerned about historic South Kenner and the revitalization of Rivertown. Just three weeks ago, the Mayor succeeded in a years long effort to define Williams Blvd through the Victorian era neighborhood, an historic “main street”. Relocating much of Kenner’s City Hall to the area, and expanding its carnival opportunities are also key in Yenni’s view.
“My concepts for the revitalization of Rivertown revolve around bringing commerce back to the area. My team and I have facilitated this by completing the following goals: Bringing a branch of the Jefferson Parish Registrar of Voters Office as well as a branch of the Office of Motor Vehicles to Rivertown; Initiating a contract with Theatre 13 to run the Rivertown Theater for the Performing Arts, which has brought tremendous success and crowded shows to the facility. This group is selling out every show and has just received several awards from the Gambit for their achievements; Selling the old train museum to a buyer who is renovating it into a reception/banquet hall; Initiating a cooperative endeavor with a new management company who turned the old children’s castle into an adult comedy venue, The Castle Theatre; and having brought events such as Christmas Village, Oktoberfest, Music in the Park, Movies in the Park and a Farmer’s Market down to Rivertown; having worked with our grant writer and administration to secure $432,400.00 via the Transportation Enhancement Program for Rivertown, gain Certified Local Government; and now earning inclusion in the Main Street, USA program.”
Also key to Yenni’s vision of a Renaissance in Kenner is the new passenger terminal at Armstrong Airport. How to construct it to benefit business development, and not to disrupt the surrounding neighborhood, is a key concern. Traffic, for example, as the Mayor explained, “We have already begun conversations with the Regional Planning Commission and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development regarding the funding of the Loyola and I-10 interchange.”
The redevelopment of the current airport terminal into a cargo facility, in Yenni’s view, is a wonderful means to redevelop the vacant land around the airport. That, of course, requires zoning changes. “My team and I are currently working on a new airport redevelopment zoning district specifically for those properties. In the zoning description are listings of specific uses for the land that will be compatible with the airport and its new developments. The new plan for the airport calls for the belly cargo operation to be located on the south side of the airport. It would be beneficial to see a development that accommodates the cargo aspects of the aviation industry. With the location of rail lines and the close proximity of the interstate, this is a logical economic development for this location.”
Kenner is becoming one of Louisiana’s most multicultural cities. The African-American population continues to grow, and the city has the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the State. It’s a welcome challenge for Mayor Yenni.
“The City of Kenner and my administration embraces the development of diversity in our population. All programs and laws are designed to be transparent and fair to all groups. Fairness and transparencies ensures fairness to all citizens of Kenner.”
The election is Saturday, April 5, 2014.
This article originally published in the March 31, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.