NEW ORLEANS -- Local health insurer Peoples Health Network has canceled a $1.5 million naming rights agreement with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, leaving an empty space on the front of the jazz market building in Central City where the Peoples Health name sat for more than two years.
It’s yet another blow for the beleaguered Jazz Orchestra, which has essentially ceased all musical performances and seen its cash whittle away to almost nothing since WWL-TV exposed orchestra founder Irvin Mayfield’s use of public library donations on the Jazz Market project.
The Jazz Orchestra’s latest state legislative audit shows Peoples Health paid a combined $600,000 in naming-rights fees over the last two years. Another $300,000 could have been paid this July, but it’s unclear if that payment was made before Peoples Health terminated an agreement that should have lasted another 27 years.
“Sponsorships are reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis, and do change periodically,” Peoples Health said in an email statement. “Peoples Health decided not to continue with naming rights for the New Orleans Jazz Market.”
The insurance company declined to say why it terminated the agreement or if the Mayfield scandal factored into the decision. It has not yet responded to questions about whether it paid the $300,000 annual fee for 2017.
The building was at the center of the Mayfield scandal when WWL-TV exposed it in May 2015. Mayfield, along with his longtime friend and business partner Ronald Markham, ran the city’s Public Library Foundation in 2011, 2012 and 2013, when the foundation transferred more than $1 million in library donations to the jazz orchestra that paid them each six-figure salaries.
The money was to help the Jazz Orchestra build the $10 million Jazz Market concert venue and bar on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
The Jazz Orchestra argued that the money was properly used for the Jazz Market because the storefront was going to serve as a jazz library branch under the public library’s master plan. The FBI has been leading a criminal investigation for years, but after WWL-TV reported the transfers, Mayfield and Markham immediately resigned from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation board.
The Jazz Orchestra then agreed to pay $483,000 in cash back to the library charity over five years, making the first $96,600 annual payment last December. The Jazz Orchestra also agreed to pay $670,000 back in the form of fundraising concerts, but has yet to hold any.
After the TV station exposed more questionable spending of library donations by Mayfield on lavish Jazz Orchestra travel, he, Markham and other leaders resigned from the orchestra, too. The nonprofit orchestra went from having $459,000 in cash on hand in June 2015 to just $21,000 in June 2016, the most recent financial data available in public reports.