Victory (Not)

March 31st, 2007 by Editor B

I picked up the paper off the porch this morning looking forward to reading another story by Stephanie Bruno about our renovation, the 18th in an ongoing series.

But I was somewhat distracted by the headline on the front page:
Giant Mid-City retail project planned

A Georgia development company has been quietly working to assemble a vast swath of Mid-City, including the Lindy Boggs Medical Center, to create a nearly contiguous 20-acre site for 1.2 million square feet of retail space for national chains that until now have been unable to find a home inside the city.

I was disheartened. I’m not talking about the revelations of the story itself. We’ve known about this developer’s plans for a while now.

Rather, this headline represents a missed opportunity for the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization and the Friends of Lafitte Corridor to control the message, or at least frame it in our terms.

Our community engaged in a long planning process last year. We have a vision for our neighborhood. Any proposed development should be viewed in the context of that vision.

Instead, the article in today’s paper gives a sense of inevitability:

The site being assembled by Victory Real Estate Investments LLC is huge, covering more than half a square mile from Jefferson Davis Parkway to Carrollton Avenue and from Toulouse to Bienville streets.

A second phase being discussed would involve an additional 9 acres on the lake side of North Carrollton, across the street from Sav-A-Center. Victory owns the Sav-A-Center and the former Winn-Dixie store that was converted into a small Home Depot last year.

If we’d taken our message to the press first, we could have been proactive and positive. As it is, MCNO comes off as negative and reactionary:

“We don’t want a suburban-style development plopped in the middle of an urban area,” [MCNO] member Janet Ward Pease said.

I’m not criticizing Janet. The story is simply written this way. The big lead is the developer’s initiative, and a community organization like MCNO is shown as merely reacting to Victory.

The Lafitte Corridor is not mentioned at all, despite the fact that the proposed urban greenway runs right through the heart of the proposed development. That’s a shame, because the Lafitte Corridor is our best opportunity for framing the issue in terms of what matters most to this community. The Lafitte Corridor offers a positive vision of the sort of development we want in Mid-City.

I believe MCNO and FOLC made a mistake in not taking our story to the press. (I’m on the boards of both organizations, so this is self-criticism.) We were well aware of the situation, but it was a mistake to think we could afford to wait. We had a chance to exert more control over the message in the media, and we blew it.

The lesson I hope to remember is this: Seize the opportunity!

This story is far from over, and the deal is far from done. As the story confirms, most of the land in question has not changed hands yet. Here’s what some of my neighbors are saying this morning [via e-mail]:

WOW! So the rumors were true! New Orleans is about to become even more Americanized! It’s a sad thing, but probably inevitable. Sure hope they don’t try to mess with Venezia, Brocato’s, K-Jean’s, etc.

Also, I remember Carrollton Avenue in the 1970’s, before it was re-developed and the Mid-City Center and the Winn-Dixie were put in. At least they’ve chosen an area that’s already been raped before, and is full of ugly, largely wasted warehouses. There’s certainly nothing historical or even attractive about most of the buildings in the chosen area, including the strip mall on the Lakeside of Carrollton & Bohn Ford. No big loss there.

Still, it’s sad. Every day, NO is becoming more like “just another American town.” So much already “ain’t dere no more,” including, significantly, North Claiborne Ave. Will this do to Mid-City what the Interstate did to Treme?

I kinda had a feeling that all these properties on such visible, repopulated streets weren’t still sitting just because the owners were waiting fot the road home. I’m sure there are some of us who actually have mixed emotions and would really enjoy the chance to shop in our own neighborhood instead of on opposite ends of town, the river, the lake, etc. but don’t want to lose the look of NOLA.

I hope that MCNO will take a stand on the issue of not closing any streets so this developer will have to work within the confines of our neighborhood. Closing streets is the first step in getting those big boxes in our backyard. I am aware of the need and desire for shopping within close proximity, however–I do not want my neighborhood to become anytown, USA.

But to be honest — after reading today’s paper, I think this is the last straw for me for staying in New Orleans as we become anywhere USA with the violence of Baghdad.

i moved out of the suburbs and bought a house in the city to get away from all that suburbanite, big box store look, and lifestyle. i think it will ruin the unique fabric of mid-city and new orleans. i don’t like shopping at places like that (i prefer to support the local business owner) and avoid it if i can. i think THAT will be a blight more than some houses that can be fixed up.

i made a point to move (and buy a house) to an environment that i would love to live in, and now the one thing i moved away from is being brought into the environment that i love.

You can see that opinion seems to be pretty negative.

8 Responses to “Victory (Not)”

  1. Mark Folse Says:

    Remember, the official city plan terminates the Lafitte Corridor at Jefferson Davis (at least several versions that I complained specifically about).

    The development need not be a bad thing, as opposed to starting at blight or a very high residential tower which the zoning would also permit, or so I understand.

    I have half a dozen worries, but I’l lay those aside for later. For now, I couldn’t agree more. Keep in mind, however, how much leeway the city gives the mayor, and this fits in perfectly with his shadow cabinet of also-rans plans for the city. It was going to be the developer’s story the first time out probably no matter what.

    I do think the story is unbalanced. Visualize what our architect sketched as an idea for development along the corridor. Then visualize Elmwood. There’s an entire other side to this story that the quote from Janet does no justicet to. (Not her fault, but the reporters). He didn’t go pass a lazy “and the neighbors said blah” instead of balance).

  2. Karen Says:

    Never ever help anyone you do not trust keep a secret.

  3. bayoustjohndavid Says:

    If there’s no way Mercy’s going to reopen, I guess that something has to be be done with the site. Still, for months I’ve thought that the lack of the hospital was the main thing holding back the neighborhood’s revival. I worked at the Magazine St. Cafe Roma when the mid-city location opened; it wouldn’t have opened at all if not for Mercy, so it’s not surprising that it didn’t reopen. There’s also several hospital related sites outside of the development area, that will remain vacant. But if nobody’s going to open the hospital, nobody’s going to reopen the hospital.

    Still, we’re losing a major source of revenue for restaurants and stores, and bringing in more restaurants and stores. That would seem illogical. I assume Victory knows what it’s what’s doing, but if the ultimate plan is to put in another Walmart, that would be disastrous. The article didn’t mention anything about tax credits, but if that’s what makes the project viable, that’s worrisome. Projects based on tax credits tend to be short term. That’s something that hasn’t been mentioned in the discussion of multi-unit hosing BTW.

    I also would have liked some explanation of those last few paragraphs about Katrina erasing barriers to entry. What does that mean? Zoning laws don’t matter?

  4. Puddinhead Says:

    “I also would have liked some explanation of those last few paragraphs about Katrina erasing barriers to entry. What does that mean? Zoning laws don’t matter?”

    I’m pretty sure what that refers to is that just about ANY proposed development investment in the city prior to Katrina was going to meet with so much resistance from either neighborhood organizations (the standard “it’s already too hard to find a parking place”, “the plans are out of scale and character for my neighborhood”, and “this will bring the wrong ‘element’ into my neighborhood” arguments), some valid and some not-so-valid, whether the development was designed to meet all of the zoning laws or not. It still happens somewhat after Katrina (Wasn’t there a condo building project planned for the fringe of the Warehouse District that was shelved because of neighborhood resistance even though I think the project met the zoning requirements of the plot of land it was designed for? As well as a hinted veiled threat of “neighborhood resistance” in order to shakedown Blaine Kern for cash in return for support for his Algiers project?), but I think they’re speculating that when given the choice between living next door to a new project or next to tracts of boarded up homes and businesses, many residents will be more inclined to work with developers (there’s that evil word again….) to get something closer to what they desire for their neighborhood rather than to flatly resist any redevelopment whatsoever.

  5. Seung Says:

    Looks like MCNO and FOLC may have a second shot at this. We will be at MCNO tonight, hopefully with the press, so that residents may begin the process to outline what any potential development should look like, and what it should definitely not look like. I talked to Daniel and he said there would be a couple of FOLC folks there. Are you going Bart?

    Seung
    Office of Councilmember Shelley Midura

  6. Editor B Says:

    Yes, Seung, I’ll be there tonight.

    http://mcno.org/2007/04/01/victory-on-the-agenda/

    Looks like I may speak on behalf of FOLC. Look for some intensive issue-framing from yours truly.

  7. b.rox » Blog Archive » Framing the Issues on Our Terms Says:

    […] front page story in the Times-Picayune. That story really alarmed a lot of people. I saw it as a missed opportunity, but in retrospect, it was free […]

  8. b.rox » Blog Archive » Mid-City Market Says:

    […] want to be engaged in the development process to ensure the highest quality outcome. I’ve seen it happen before, and so I get a little nervous […]

Leave a Reply