By Jason Methvin/Opinion
I can remember in 1981 when the cotton was particularly high, that Momma and Daddy loaded the lot of us up in the Lincoln and took us to the State Fair. There in a bright yellow tent, I saw her. Zambora the Jungle Girl. Captured in deepest darkest Africa, Zambora could turn into a gorilla! I had to see that. So, daddy bought me a ticket and sent me in. There she was. Diminutive in stature, sedated and restrained for our safety. The lights dimmed and she started to change. Gradually but unmistakably into a huge gorilla. We were told to stay quiet so as not to awaken her but Bang! Something went wrong and Zambora broke her bonds and rushed the crowd! If I wasn’t the first person out of the tent, I was the second. No gorilla was going to catch me! It was over El Chico’s chips and chimichangas that Daddy, with a smile, asked “Did you really believe that the girl turned into a gorilla you? No? This is why you were never in danger.” “So, we got ripped off! We should get our money back” I declared. “No,” he said, “A carney is a carney and he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. The only thing you can trust with a carney is the money you give to them.”
And so, it goes with “Economic Development” in Natchitoches. The Mayor acts like cut rate carnival barker hawking Natchitoches as a nice place to visit for a weekend. He has given up on pitching it as a place to live, work, start a business and prosper. He sells us bright shiny things we didn’t even know we needed. Alliance Compressor was the last employer to hire more than 50 people, but hey we have a convention center! Fred’s, Radio Shack and Steeles shut down? That’s ok we have a downtown hotel! Dickey’s, Orange Leaf, Cane River Bar and Grill, Hardee’s and Cane break Café close? I got two words for you “Pocket Parks!” Vacant commercial lots and buildings spread across Natchitoches like a pox with no prospects. Half a million-dollar renovation of the Arts Center! The tax base of this city is contracting severely. What is the Council’s answer to this? A massive “sugar high” public works campaign masquerading as economic development? A ball park will answer all of your prayers. How are we to pay for all of this magnificence? “You’re not!” the Mayor declares “It is free to you as long as you don’t shop or do business out at the Interstate”
The Mayor is unabashedly selling this as a tourist trap. The plan is to soak our visitors with an additional 1 cent sales tax in return for their patronage. This won’t harm locals in the slightest, he says. He doesn’t care if it increases the costs of doing business here for the merchants affected. What he fails to tell you is that they can amend the TIFF districts to include non connected individual areas drawn around specific businesses to impose their tax without elections. The implication being that you had better be in the good graces of City government or they’ll do it to you for a good cause.
We have touted Natchitoches as a tourist destination for as long as I can remember. The problem is that there are always other places to go. There are brick streets all over East Texas. Christmas lights are strung all over the Ark La Tex. Alexandria now has its own Christmas Festival on Christmas Festival weekend. Someone remade Steel Magnolias and it wasn’t even done in Natchitoches! At some point we have to change our story. We have to start making this place a good place to live and make money. But as long as we treat the hotel manager, the cashier, or the short order cook as less important than the comptroller at NSU, the department head or the City finance director, we won’t change. Business owners shouldn’t have to postpone or abandon their plans to reinvest in their businesses because the city wants to get grabby with any potential profits to erect BS plaques and statues of former mayors. The City needs to quit treating its citizens as revenue bell cows to be milked in return for the priviledge to being located in the City. If we are in it together, shouldn’t the size of City government shrink with the City economy?
I hope that Parc Natchitoches works out. I wish that it is the elixir that invigorates the local economy and that its revenues flow like milk and honey. I pray that people all over the State will pass the four or five sports complexes along the way to make Natchitoches the travel ball mecca of the South. I would like to trust that revenues will exceed Mayor Posey’s projections, but to date they don’t exist. But I would sooner believe that the bikini clad little blonde white girl I saw so long ago really turned into that 400-pound gorilla named Zambora.
The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal. If you have an article or story of interest for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.