Barnwell Center Dead… Taxpayers Hammered… No News

September 18, 2016

Lacking only the expected approval of the Shreveport City Council, an aquarium will take over the riverfront space from which the Barnwell Center long and well served our community.

No matter how stupendous and breathtaking officials and other insiders tell us this is, facts and analysis do not support them.

“Leaders” assert that the aquarium of start-up company Planet Aqua is a game-changer here because it is a “start-up” paving the way for many new, high-paying jobs.  Such spin aside, real analysis shows instead only more of our highly unsuccessful same:  government grows government … with self-anointed “leaders” attached.

Taxpayers are hoodwinked, hammered, and wrongly told that Shreveport, like Austin, Texas, is poised to be a hotbed for entrepreneurs.  (More on that later.)

As for the Barnwell, supposedly “closed for repairs and renovation” in 2012, the truth is far worse.  Given the facts, all of this will go down hard with many of its long-time supporters.

Evidence of that fact is the hooey officials are now using to rewrite those facts and history.   As one official in on the deal earnestly explained to me, the aquarium “saves the Barnwell.”  To them, the remaining exterior shell is “the Barnwell,” and its use by the aquarium thus “saves” it.

(Such thinking reminds me of the Vietnam War atrocity at Ben Tre city, after which a senior U. S. Army officer told AP correspondent Peter Arnett, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”)

Our Barnwell Memorial Garden and Art Center has been a cultural mainstay here since its opening in 1970.  It is named for oilman R. S. “Cap” Barnwell whose family put up half its cost.  Over the decades, many supporters and volunteers donated their time and money, too, with the volunteer core organized as “Friends of the Barnwell.”

The original deal set-out that the City owns the building and was required to operate it.  By contract, the Friends provided scheduling / programming.

In 2011, voters passed a $1.5 million bond proposition for repairs, including ADA compliance and asbestos removal (which cost $111,000).  Regardless, ex-Mayor Cedric Glover and his team terminated the City’s contract with Friends of the Barnwell in January 2012.

With our $1.5 million in the hands of Glover, Inc., the Barnwell was what hunters refer to as “DRT” … dead right there.

EAP / BRF / and “Angels”

In 2013, a small group of wealthy local insiders – our government in hiding – went to work on a new deal, supposedly employing the aforementioned “Austin template.”  It first required these unelected “leaders” to gather a lot of taxpayer money for the “EAP” … the Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program.

The EAP says in writing that it “helps start-ups grow and thrive into big businesses through services offering a link to investors” (think “angel funds”).  So, on the public dime, it does for selected “entrepreneurs” what other people have always done for themselves in starting their businesses.  Being a chosen one, EAP wrote Planet Aqua’s business plan, took point in key aspects of financing, and more.

The EAP is a Biomedical Research Foundation, BRF, creation.  It is run – some say “owned” – by wealthy local political boss John George.  Regardless that he was long an oil and gas man, he three years ago dove into the hospital business by taking control of our state’s Shreveport and Monroe safety-net hospitals, a venture now on the ropes, at best.  Now, he is the expert-in-residence hawking EAP.

George used the many hospital and other enticements he could wave at pols to score beaucoup taxpayer money.  For EAP, Caddo Parish Commissioners handed him $500,000 of our taxpayer money annually for (at least) five years, with Mayor Tyler kicking-in another $250,000 from Shreveport taxpayers.

Although George said BRF would put $250,000 in the pot, who knows?  In taking over the hospitals, George arranged for BRF to be exempt from our Louisiana Public Records Law.  But even if BRF did kick-in, it is still just more taxpayer money since it has its very own 1.74-mill property tax by which we hand it $3 million every year.

Then there are “angel funds.”  As shown in plan document diagrams for BRF / EAP, already wealthy locals – who will not be publicly identified unless they so choose – are set to personally invest in BRF / EAP start-ups, presumably the most potentially profitable ones.

In the $4.3 million Planet Aqua deal, the company was given start-up services via BRF / EAP. Mayor Tyler will give the group $1,000,000 in Shreveport taxpayer cash, plus the balance of the $1,500,000 bond issue proceeds.  Federal taxpayers, through the Small Business Administration (SBA), are loaning the company $2,000,000.

Planet Aqua will be given the used-to-be-Barnwell shell for $100 a month, and is expected to get free water and sewer, other utilities, tax abatements, etc.  It will charge $12 admission to an average of 330 attendees a day, we are told.

Bottom line, our government-in-hiding keeps picking winners (themselves, “angels,” and some public officials) and losers (taxpayers).

Taxpayers get 45 new full-time and part-time jobs for our community …

… and our memories of the Barnwell Center.

Elliott Stonecipher


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