McGlinchey in the News
New Orleans firms weigh move – or returnRead Time: 3 mins
This story by Chris Gray first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Rising near Interstate 10 within sight of the Superdome, the tower of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has been a landmark for a newspaper that has served its intensely locally oriented community since 1837.
Now, the paper’s 270 editorial employees are scattered around Baton Rouge, about 75 miles away. Forced to evacuate as water lapped the steps of their building and printing plant, the reporters and editors who gave the world some of the first information about Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact have relocated to the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. Photographers, page designers and administrative personnel work out of a suburban office park several miles away. For three days after the storm hit, the newspaper existed on the Web only, with up-to-the-minute news blogs, emergency contacts, and forums for worried New Orleanians to search for family members and swap information.
The paper has been printing 60,000 copies – a fraction of its usual 269,000 circulation – since last Friday’s editions from a plant in Houma, southwest of New Orleans. The papers are distributed at Red Cross shelters and emergency stations, and in less hard-hit areas such as Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes – anywhere Times-Picayune readers can be found.
“We’ll go back to New Orleans as soon as we possibly can,” said editor Jim Amoss, who does not yet know the state of his own home. “It will take a while before we understand what the shape of things will be.”
The Times-Picayune is not the only New Orleans business that must figure out a future with an uncertain customer base. With residents of the city of 480,000 dispersed as far away as Philadelphia and California and forbidden to return soon, the commercial enterprises that make a city run are, for now, largely unnecessary.
Yet many business owners are planning their return, lining up contractors and suppliers for what could be the city’s largest building boom since the Works Progress Administration during the Depression. The WPA put millions of unemployed people to work building roads, bridges and airport runways.
Others are plotting a possible permanent exodus from a city that has no customers, moving their headquarters to nearby cities such as Baton Rouge and Houston. Those most likely to return are the family-run operations that have been based in New Orleans for decades.
Nancy Napoli’s family owns five businesses, including Empire Antiques on Magazine Street, Café Sbisa in the French Quarter, and The Boot, a legendary drinking hole near Tulane University. Via e-mail, she said that her family, now living in Dallas, intended to return as soon as possible.
“All of our properties are intact so far with the exception of a building that collapsed,” she wrote in an e-mail yesterday.
Others are less certain. Entergy Corp., the utility that marks New Orleans’ only entry on the Fortune 500, has moved its main office to a suburb of Jackson, Miss., while other employees have been sent to Little Rock and Houston and Beaumont, Texas. A news release called the move temporary but offered some wiggle room.
“New Orleans is Entergy’s home, and we are absolutely dedicated to the city’s reconstruction and resurrection,” said J. Wayne Leonard, the company’s chief executive officer. “We intend to return home. Our ability to do that depends, of course, on a number of factors over which we do not have complete control.”
The future of the city’s major-league sports teams is also uncertain. There is speculation that owner Tom Benson may permanently move his New Orleans Saints to San Antonio, Texas. Officials do not know what will become of the damaged Superdome, the NFL team’s home.
While the neighboring New Orleans Arena suffered less damage, the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets have not announced their intentions for the coming season.
Perhaps most tenuous are the professional services that made up the city’s white-collar base. Some companies, such as those in the petroleum and maritime industries, require a presence near the Port of New Orleans. Those are likely to return.
But companies without such requirements wonder if Baton Rouge, already the center of state government, or Houston, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has temporarily relocated, might make a better headquarters.
When the call came to evacuate, the law firm of McGlinchey Stafford implemented an emergency plan drafted after the Sept. 11 attacks, immediately securing extra office space and 41 apartments in Baton Rouge for some of the 88 lawyers at its New Orleans headquarters. Michael Ferachi, managing partner at the Baton Rouge office, said that several other big-name law firms had followed suit. The state Supreme Court is based in New Orleans, so the firm will always have an office in the city, Ferachi said.
At the Times-Picayune, editors remain optimistic. Metro editor Peter Kovacs said he believed that New Orleans would remain a viable, albeit smaller, market as the residents who love their city return.
“In the shadow of an event, it looks like things will never go back to the way they were,” he said. “But they do go back.”