An opportunity for greatness
The bond election we face on Nov. 14 is a huge decision for Baton Rouge, but many voters seem to be prepared to make the call based on questions like, “What's in it for me?” or “How much will it cost us?” That's normal in a tax election—and it's human nature, too [looking out for No. 1].
But the fact is, our community's finest moments—when we shined in the national spotlight—were those when we focused on others and on the “greater good,” as we did post-Katrina and post-Gustav. We weren't average in our compassion or mediocre in our response to those in need. Our community was excellent and awe-inspiring, and I know I swelled with pride when folks I met elsewhere heard I was from Baton Rouge. The nation was impressed. We stood out as a community—and it felt great.
I also remember sitting in the New Orleans Superdome with my family in 2003 and 2007 as we watched the LSU Tigers capture the BCS championship. It was the exhilaration of watching our team excel and finish as the best in the nation. There is something special about being exceptional, instead of simply mediocre.
These memories are of opportunities we had to step up as a community and team to the next level—a level of greatness that would be remembered and that would stand out from the crowd. And Baton Rouge did. And LSU did. And these were proud moments in our history that made an impression on the nation.
On Nov. 14, I believe we have been presented with another opportunity to take our community to the next level. A vision for the future. A chance to build on our current momentum and invest our resources to separate us from the pack and put the spotlight back on Baton Rouge, positioning us as “America's next great city.”
That's something I get excited about, and it's why I am voting yes for the bond issue on Nov. 14. I am asking you to join me, and also to encourage others to check out brgov.com and examine the proposal. Be an informed voter—not just an angry one.
I know there are legitimate questions and concerns about raising new taxes and about some aspects of the proposal, including the land for Alive and operating costs. Those are addressed to some extent on the Web site, but there is going to have to be an element of trust we must have in Mayor-President Kip Holden to execute this plan. After his first term, Holden received 74% of the vote for re-election. He is asking for us to continue our support for him and his vision. You will have to decide. I already have—and will hold him accountable for the results.
I earlier referred to the Louisiana Superdome. This has become a landmark that symbolizes New Orleans. The state project, first proposed by Dave Dixon and then-governor John McKeithen, was controversial and opposed by many. But the dream of an NFL franchise wouldn't happen without a domed stadium. McKeithen took a risk.
Imagine New Orleans today without the Superdome. I can't.
Look at the impact. More Super Bowls have been played at the Louisiana Superdome than at any other sports facility: 1978, 1981, 1986, 1990, 1997 and 2002. The Superdome is currently scheduled to host the 2013 Super Bowl. It has hosted the BCS National Championship Game three times and is scheduled to host the game again in 2012.
The Superdome has hosted the NCAA college basketball Final Four four times and is scheduled to host it again in 2012. And where are all the dome critics today? McKeithen was right. Thank God for his vision and willingness to take a risk in the face of opposition.
And consider the economic impact from the dome and these events to the city, region and even Baton Rouge and the state.
The same could be said of the national championships won by LSU. Those titles benefit all sports and the university as a whole. [A rising tide lifts all boats.] But didn't that first start with then-Chancellor Mark Emmert taking a big risk by hiring a new coach from Michigan State at double the current LSU salary? Remember the outrage and screams of irate fans and critics? They were silenced by Nick Saban's results and championship.
It is easy to be a critic, naysayer or pessimist. There are so many. But rare are the visionaries and risk-takers like McKeithen, Emmert and Holden.
There are no guarantees when it comes to taking risks. There are many failures to prove that. But the one thing you can guarantee is that without a tolerance for risk and without a quest for greatness, mediocrity is the best-case outcome. And I for one, have no desire for mediocrity in Louisiana's capital city. Not if we expect to compete worldwide in the 21st century.
Improving this parish and making it a better place for our kids will cost us. Anything worthwhile has a price. And though it costs us, I believe it's worth it. And I believe we will see the return on investment for us and our children and grandchildren. And they will look back many years from now and thank us for taking this risk. Much like we now thank the late Gov. John McKeithen, who took a chance and built the Superdome. What a valuable asset to our state. No risk, no reward.
There are those who will say, “Baton Rouge is doing just fine. We don't need to take these risks.” But those in business who rest on their laurels are quickly left behind. Change is constant and visionary leadership in this age is essential. We must be bold because complacency is the enemy of progress. The time for action is now if we are to seize the opportunity to leap past our competitors.
Seventy-five percent of the money raised [see list on brgov.com] will be spent on public works and public safety, infrastructure that is long overdue and badly needed. Most folks seem to agree on that. But the 25% spent on building Alive has drawn most of the attention since it is out of the ordinary. Some of the best planning minds in the country are designing and developing this facility, which will draw thousands to visit our community, gain us much national exposure and serve as an icon to our future. And the Audubon Institute is a quality organization with a long record of success. I like that Holden and his advisers didn't choose second-string players. These are the best, and in my experience, winners produce champions.
I was born and raised in this community and have watched it grow conservatively for 54 years. I love Baton Rouge and want to see it flourish and fulfill its potential. That has not happened—yet. I want to see new opportunities for my grandchildren. I want other cities to envy Baton Rouge and travel here to ask how we did it. I want to live on the edge, not die on the porch.
This bond election is more than public projects. It's more than bricks and mortar. It's more than new jobs. It's not just about downtown.
It is about quality of life. It's symbolic. It's a referendum on a new direction. It's about the next generation. It's about our national image in the 21st century. It's about our pride in our capital city.
This bond issue is a means to an end: America's next great city on the riverfront. It's our mayor's vision for the future. And the Good Book says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Vote yes on Nov. 14.
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