01 August 2006

South Carrollton/South Claiborne Walgreen's Redevelopment: T-Minus Two Days Until Issue Back Before New Orleans City Council Again . . .

Nearly two weeks ago the New Orleans City Council vote on the requested zoning variance for the proposed Walgreen's redevelopment at South Carrollton/South Claiborne was deferred upon request of District A Councilperson Shelley Midura. Ms. Midura gave an impassioned plea to Walgreen's, their developer, and their legal counsel to come back to the council with a compromised/alternative design that conformed with the Carrollton Avenue Overlay Zone and one that also legally assured the grocery store component of the redevelopment (which they currently lack--but you purposely wouldn't know that from their site plan handout). Additionally, Ms. Midura instructed them to come together with the adjacent neighborhoods to foster what she categorized a "win-win" solution. With two days remaining before the issue is set to before the City Council again on the 3rd of August, Walgreen's and their local representatives have--to my knowledge (and correct me if I am misinformed)--made absolutely no effort to cultivate any community involvement . . . . And since the deferral, has Team Walgreen's been working with Mr. Robert and Mr. Pivoch (sp?) to get the land/lease issues ironed out?

It is my understanding that instead of following Ms. Midura's instructions, Team Walgreen's approach is to work around her request by playing a little hardball with the other City Council representatives coercing a majority vote in favor of the proposed zoning variance. In my opinion, Walgreen's has absolutely no intention of any compromise despite Ms. Midura's good-faith negotiations. Nearly to the level of contempt Walgreen's appears to be indifferent to the wants, the expectations, or the desires of the adjacent neighborhoods.

Here is a hypothetical example of above-mentioned "hardball," but in an alterno-world New Orleans--unfortunately a New Orleans also flooded by a failed federal flood protection system. Let's say within City Council District X languishes several still-shuttered, flooded-out Floorblue's Drug Stores. District X's councilperson desperately wants at least one or two of the stores to re-open to offer the district's rebuilding constituency some degree of normalcy and to illustrate to the voters of District X that their councilperson is indeed working on their behalf. If Floorblue's conveys to District X Councilperson that those stores will never re-open upon a vote against the proposed controversial zoning variance in District Z, what is District X Councilperson to do? Hmmmmmm--a dilemma.

From 1998 to 28 August 2005, the very deliberate Walgreen's strategy with the South Carrollton/South Claiborne Canal Villerie/K&B-Rite-Aid site was to allow the existing vacant buildings to decay to as unsightly and as unsafe levels as possible. Why would they do such a thing? Because they were aware of the non-"plop and drop" design guidelines applicable upon the site and were also aware of the consensus that the site was best suited for a much-needed grocery store--not another drug store, and especially not another Walgreen's. The way to counter that consensus and reverse it instead to leverage was to allow the place to become such a blighted eyesore (and maybe some potentially well-publicized crimes could happen on site too) that the tables would turn where the neighborhoods would be begging Walgreen's to build their store--regardless of the design. The flooding of New Orleans and the abhorrent decline of the site since the storm further galvanizes such potential "just do something" sentiment Walgreen's has been intentionally trying to provoke from nearby residents/potential opponents to the project. Additionally, Team Walgreen's is quite aware and ready to take advantage of a City Council petrified of being branded "anti-business" or "anti-development" in this fragile post-KTMB New Orleans environment. I also suspect this fear is also the reason this debate has not received the coverage in the Times-Picayune or on WWL, WDSU, WGNO, or WVUE one might expect.

Aside from the fact that anyone with a pulse understands a full-service grocery store should be the priority for redevelopment on this one remaining suitable Carrollton site and not another drugstore (in which we have many existing shopping options--including a Walgreen's towards the foot of South Carrollton Avenue), perhaps a more important reason the City Council cannot buckle and grant the desired zoning variance to Walgreen's is because it will establish a bad precedent. Technically, the variance would not create a legal "binding" precedence, but it would still send the message to developers that the City Council is willing to overlook and essentially ignore guidelines and limitations purposely put in place by professional planners for a very relevant and important reason. In other words, if an inch is given up, a mile will be desired in future instances. Therefore, don't allow any wiggle room and make the applicable rules be followed. Period. This is essential given the unprecedented amount of new development and redevelopment set to occur in the near future as New Orleans "re-builds" full steam.

This site is pivotal at one of the most important intersections within the city and serves as the terminus of the historic St. Charles Streetcar Line. The redevelopment of the site simply cannot be squandered with a poor design and wasted on a less than ideal use. What sort of message is sent if a sub-par design is accepted and approved by the City Council at such a high profile intersection? Other developers are watching this case because ultimately the City Council's decision has complete relevance towards the expectations of future projects (what will be allowed and what will not be allowed through the zoning/design review process--i.e. how many corners developers will be allowed to cut or not cut) despite any reassurances that it won't. On Carrollton Avenue alone--subject to the additional standards set forth by the overlay zone--are several flood-damaged properties that undoubtedly will be redeveloped in the very near future such as South Carrollton/Pritchard Place (3/4 of city block destroyed by fire in days following the storm), South Carrollton/Palmetto (already demolished Piccadilly's/soon-to-be-demolished Carrollton Shopping Center--a huge site), South Carrollton/Tulane (shopping center where Mid City Rock N Bowl is located--now for sale), and North Carrollton/Canal (former Canal Villerie/Robert Fresh Market slated to become, drum roll please, another Walgreen's.) These are only such sites along Carrollton Avenue . . . how many are there citywide?

Everyone would agree development and redevelopment and most importantly investment/re-investment in New Orleans is essential towards moving New Orleans forward following the events of nearly a year ago. We find ourselves at an important juncture as we need investment and the physical improvements, jobs, and tax revenue new development will create. However, we also need to retain and respect the characteristics that make New Orleans what it is and rebuild using these as the foundation--not try and circumvent them. These can co-exist--and flourish, but it takes some creativity and understanding . . . . and although Walgreen's apparently could care less (despite the invaluable PR value their cooperation in this project would garnish), the City of New Orleans is worth that effort.

Stay tuned . . .

Complete archive of THE THIRD BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS posts on this subject (some info maybe outdated): 14 March 2006 26 June 2006 28 June 2006 11 July 2006 17 July 2006 18 July 2006 21 July 2006

TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Walgreens, Shelley Midura, Carrollton, Urban Planning


At August 01, 2006 12:49 PM, Anonymous dangerblond said...

I just can't understand why the city council doesn't call their bluff. If there is money to be made, they will build. If they want to be bad neighbors, someone else will build. That building where Canal Villere was is a complete disgrace. Now, post-flood, I get even more incensed when I pass by buildings that were allowed to become nightmares years ago.

It's so interesting to me how the players fail to realize the effect the flood has had on us. So, they want to play hardball with people who are currently living in New Orleans? Well, they better eat their fucking Wheaties.

At August 01, 2006 3:40 PM, Anonymous Editor B said...

Your coverage of this issue is astounding. Thank you.

At August 01, 2006 4:22 PM, Blogger Ray in New Orleans said...

If there is money to be made, they will build.

Exactly! Call their bluff. Walgreens will make a deal when their revenue stream is on the line. The City of Austin made Walgreens sign a committment to always fill birth-control and day-after meds as prescribed in exchange for CoA making them the preferred pharmacy on the city employee health plan. Money talks.

At August 01, 2006 10:27 PM, Blogger mominem said...

Many years ago I lived within walking distance of this site and made many trips to the K&B and the National (or was it a Canal Villerie?) Supermarket.

I find some of your theories far fetched. I doubt any National Chain cares enough about the city of New Orleans to purchase a site and then plot to let it sit for years, consuming capital, simply to build one store in accordance with some devious plan.

I doubt any of the same people who were involved with the purchase of the site are still involved today. The average tenure for a corporate exec last time I checked was less than three years.

I imagine that if anyone had a viable plan and had offered the owner a reasonable offer in the intervening time it would have been gladly accepted, just to get that turkey off the books.

Finally the site is really too small for both a Supermarket and a Pharmacy. A Supermarket would be preferable as a modern supermarket would likely also include a pharmacy. Almost all of the items sold in the Pharmacy would be sold in a Pharmacy.

At August 01, 2006 10:46 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

Momenim Walgreens holds the lease and has for 7 years. Pivach OWNS the land

At August 01, 2006 11:40 PM, Blogger bayoustjohndavid said...

How long has Pivach owned the property? I don't remeber all the details, but I do know know that when Robert tried to acquire the property (or the lease) some years ago, a national chain (the one that was owned by a Mormon family at the time)kept making offers and doing other things to mess up the deal. The attorney who told the details is no longer alive, so I can't find out all the facts. The point is, national chains will play games with pieces of property. It has less to do with the actual property than what they to have (or don't want potential competitors to have) in a given market. Also, since Mr. Robert has been trying to open a store there for years, I would give him the benfit of the doubt.

Assuming Midura will vote against the variance, that means three more council members need to vote with her. I'm getting ready to email Carter, Thomas and Fielkow. I don't know if it will do any good, but I think everyone should try, esp. with the councilmen-at-large.

At August 02, 2006 12:56 AM, Anonymous adrastos said...

I think there's probably more to this story than meets the eye. But I can't quite figure out what. Your story is good but my gut instinct tells me that Wallgreen's may be a front or a straw man/stand in for someone else.

At August 03, 2006 6:51 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

issue deferred

site is getting cleaned up

city council is pushing the issue of blight


Post a Comment

<< Home