It’s nice to live in a city where at least some people seem to be going a good job. I was speaking to my mom in Baton Rouge the other night, telling her about some of things that had been happening in New Orleans over the past year or so. “Wow,” she said. “I guess Mitch must be doing his job.”
Well, something’s going on, because even OffBeat subscribers–who often visit the city–have told me that New Orleans is certainly changing. Lots of construction. New businesses. Younger people moving to town with new ideas. Refreshing new attitudes.
For example: for a long, long time, the city proper has been under-served by grocery stores. There just aren’t enough of them. Not long after Joseph and I moved to Central City, we were looking forward to getting a grocery store–Albertson’s–located near our house. Multiple old houses were moved to make room for the new store. Alas, the Tchoupitoulas Wal-Mart opened and scotched Albertson’s plans. The acreage was vacant for many years until the Muses was finished a few years ago.
Being located on Frenchmen Street, we’ve watched the amazing changes there. Driving home on Oretha Castle Haley (OCH) Boulevard every day, we’ve seen it sort of lagging behind as the rest of the city was bouncing back (i.e., Freret Street, Broadmoor, Mid-City, Bywater). But it appears that OCH may be the next up-and-comer. The old Myrtle Banks School (on OCH near Calliope), which was closed by the school board at one time, was supposed to be converted into a civil rights museum. It’s a beautiful old building, and unfortunately it burned several years ago; the roof was destroyed. It’s been derelict ever since. But the building was purchased by developers and construction has started to convert the property to a community center that will contain a fresh food market that’s going to be operated by Jack & Jake’s, whose mission is to connect local food producers with people who need fresh food most. That’s Central City, all right. No groceries. One, maybe two places to buy fresh produce. I can’t wait ’til it opens.
The Southern Food & Beverage Museum will also open at the corner of OCH and MLK Boulevard; the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra is planning a performance/teaching/office facility (“The Jazz Market”) across the street in the old Gator’s building. Cafe Reconcile has expanded, renovated and is now open. Casa Borrega is open too. We need more restaurants and possibly some music venues on OCH. Central City is the last frontier in urban development in inner-city New Orleans. Can’t wait to see OCH thrive and prosper.
But then there’s the noise ordinance issue, which still has never been resolved. OCH Boulevard is a cultural district. It’s a commercial street, and there should be allowances for live music there. It’s going to take someone with a pioneer spirit to establish OCH as a thriving main street again, a city that encourages retail and a nighttime economy there, and neighborhood and business associations that can compromise on the need for both commerce and residences in that area. You cannot have one (residents) without the other (businesses).
In New Orleans, the residents’ associations squeak the loudest, which means they get the bulk of the attention from city representatives (they need their votes, understand?). Small businesses don’t have that kind of clout, with the exception of the Hotel & Motel Association and to a lesser extent, the restaurant association. Many years ago, and over the years, I thought it was a great idea to bring together the venues who provide music in the city so that they could speak as a group, when issues such as the re-establishment of Jimmy’s Club uptown rear their ugly heads. Anselmo has jumped through so many hoops that it’s a wonder he didn’t decide to just give up on the idea of re-opening his club. His main issues stemmed from opposition from the neighborhood association.
Neighborhood associations (VCPORA, Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, and the like) should not have the final say on whether or not a business can open. Unless there’s some compromise between these residents’ groups and businesses, New Orleans may turn into another big suburb, albeit one with historic architecture. Do we really want that? We know many neighborhood associations (not necessarily residents) oppose music clubs. What’s next, restaurants? Oh yeah, that is a big issue: whatever happened to the Habana Outpost development on North Rampart and Esplanade? The VCPORA and Friends of the Vieux Carre opposed it because they didn’t want a restaurant on one of the busiest corners on the edge of the Quarter that has contained an abandoned gas station for decades. The vote on approval was delayed once again on Wednesday afternoon.
The operative word here is that both sides need to compromise and work together. The neighborhood associations should not have the last say without representation from the businesses that serve and entertain the residents of the city.
Before I take my leave, here’s wishing a happy birthday to my old friend, Benny Jones of the Treme Brass Band, who will celebrate his 70th birthday this Sunday at Jackie’s Touch of Class, 919 N. Claiborne (7 p.m. to midnight). Many more happy and healthy years to you, dear Benny!