I’ve written many times about the issues of noise, safety, sanitation on Frenchmen Street, and wherever there’s music in the city. Most live music is played in bars, and bars breed these problems, unfortunately. Unless the operators in a densely populated entertainment area like Frenchmen Street pay very close attention to what happens, problems arise quicker than you can crack open a PBR.
Luckily, the Frenchmen Street music club operators are, for the most part, a close-knit lot. Just yesterday morning we received a photo taken from a private security camera of a guy who was attempting to break into two different alleyways on Frenchmen at about 4 a.m. The photos of the jerk were disseminated swiftly to everyone on the street so we could keep an eye out.
Unfortunately, every time you get a group of people together to try to accomplish a singular goal, there’s always one or two who don’t give a damn, and who will do what they please. When they don’t consider the fortunes of their fellow businesses, they become bad neighbors. Two Halloweens ago, a rogue music club, serving both liquor and food, set up shop in a vacant lot at 518 Frenchmen Street, between the Blue Nile and the dilapidated Laborde Printing building. The bar and music club operators on Frenchmen went ballistic. They bear the brunt of keeping up their properties, paying taxes and regular employees, and the city had granted a special event permit for this operator.
The Frenchmen Street Business Association formed to try to counteract such occurrences in the future and preserve the ambience of Frenchmen, and it worked last year during Jazz Fest and Halloween. But as of last week, we have a new temporary neighbor. On Frenchmen Street there are several restaurants who provide food day in and day out to local customers and folks who are visiting New Orleans: Vaso, Mona’s, Maison, 13, Three Muses, Yuki Izakaya, Praline Connection, Snug Harbor, Adolfo’s, Cafe Rose Nicaud, the Marigny Brasserie, Mojito’s, and newcomer Melange. Now Frenchmen Street has carnival food, the kind you can find at any old county fair. Does this tacky stand enhance the vibe that Frenchmen Street has managed to create over the past 15 years?
Apparently, the permitting was granted legally. When the booth between Laborde’s and the Blue Nile was mentioned to a representative of Councilperson Kristen Palmer’s office, the police were sent to investigate, but the guys appear to be legal. The city’s Department of Revenue granted a permit. The Health Department approved.
This is the way that nice entertainment areas eventually rot and turn into loud, tacky imitations of their former selves. Call me an idealist and call me self-righteous, but the person who rented the lot to these interlopers should be ashamed. Frenchmen Street, if not carefully monitored and nurtured with respect, could easily become Bourbon Street Junior.
The Frenchmen Street Arts District Overlay was intended to foster a culture-oriented scene. This devolution of the Frenchmen Street ambience is assisted by the addition of an operator who’s serving carnival food you can find anywhere across the U.S. The Frenchmen Street businesses are, for the most part, doing their job to try to keep the street authentic. They’ve made contact with their Councilman’s office. But there seems to be a disconnect between the city’s revenue department, zoning and planning, and the representatives of the people in Councilman Palmer’s office.
It’s a shame the owners of the Laborde’s lot don’t care about anybody else, even though the rest of the Frenchmen Street businesses are doing what they can to help preserve the nature of the street. But a lot of the blame for this lies with the city, which, while it talks a good game about culture and cultural districts, still relaxes regulations for permits such as this one. Andre Laborde, who owns the Laborde building, told us that his cousins control the lot on Frenchmen, and that they obtained the permit without his knowledge or consent.
Harking back to last week’s blog post about noise: it’s the same sort of situation on Bourbon Street. A few bad apples spoil it for everyone. Let’s face it—the guys with more money and connections in New Orleans seem to be able to do whatever the hell they want: blasting music out onto the streets, allowing an obvious infraction to the city’s cultural overlay on Frenchmen, or financing efforts to keep music off the streets in New Orleans with a noise ordinance that is unreasonable. The corruption and idiocy is on both sides of the fence: the operators and the city.
It’s the city government that’s supposed to set the tone, keep regulations and enforce the laws that make the craziness that pervades New Orleans tolerable for all of its citizens and visitors alike.
Can’t we have some serious connections between different departments in city government that will prevent this sort of thing? There are such things as computers that allow this. Can’t we have some common-sense enforcement of rules and regulations that already exist? Let’s fix this before the entire city turns into a carnival—and I don’t mean Mardi Gras.