14 March 2006

"Ramrod Opportunism" Walgreens at South Carrollton and South Claiborne

This is an excerpt from the Times-Picayune right before Mardi Gras regarding some resolutions passed by the City Planning Commission:

It (the planning commission) also gave unanimous approval to plans for a 14,700-square-foot Walgreens drugstore at South Claiborne and South Carrollton avenues, the former site of a Rite Aid drugstore and a Canal Villere grocery. Both stores have been closed for several years.

Leaders of several Carrollton neighborhood groups have been pushing for years to get a grocery built at the site and have opposed Walgreens' plans, saying the neighborhood does not need another drugstore. Walgreens officials presented similar plans in 2002 but withdrew them at the last minute. At that time, they said that if the drugstore plans were approved, Sav-A-Center was
ready to build a 24,000-square-foot grocery on the Nelson Street side of the block, provided a fire station at Nelson and Carrollton could be relocated.

Many neighbors were skeptical, fearing that if the Walgreens were built, the grocery would never follow.

A parking issue: Because a drugstore is permitted at the site under the zoning law, the issue before the commission was not whether to allow the store but whether to let Walgreens build it 143 feet back from Carrollton, with a large parking lot between the store and the street. Although a setback of that size violates commission design regulations, the commission agreed to allow it,
provided that the developers plant several trees, landscape the parking lot and promise to keep clean a bus stop in the Claiborne Avenue neutral ground. It also ordered the developers to meet with the unhappy neighbors but did not direct them to make any concessions.

There was no discussion of whether a grocery is likely to be built on the Nelson Street site that Sav-A-Center formerly was targeting for a store.

These developers (via Texas I believe) have been playing hardball since they acquired this piece of property over five years ago. Since their initial proposal got shot down by the city I have been saying (to my wife's annoyance everytime we drove by it) that they were purposely letting the buildings go to shit and practically hoping someone would be killed or be harmed on the premises so the city and neighborhood associations would be begging them to build the new Walgreens per their original proposal. Rite Aid in their geniusness closed the long time K&B/Rite Aid location at one of New Orleans' busiest intersections within a year of their acquisition of the K&B chain. Yes, the place was in desperate need of renovation, but that location at one of New Orleans' busiest intersections, should make it a perennial cash-cow. Rite Aid once again proves why they are the worst. Ever. The Canal-Villerie also on-site bit the dust in the late-1990's Schweggmann, National-CV, Sav-A-Center, Robert Market grocery store shuffle-roo. Both stores continue to languish there now tagged (and swept by the rollers of the Gray Ghost), flooded-out, and abandoned. No one got killed as I predicted, but the developers are now going to get their way regardless. Just as Barbara Bush provided her insight on New Orleans evacuees relegated to the Astrodome in September 2005, "it's all working out pretty good for them."

Not stated in the excerpt above is the stipulation of the retroactive closing of the Walgreen's on South Carrollton/Earhart included in the initial proposal several years ago. This was another major factor galvanizing the neighborhood associations and City against the proposed project because of the empty, abandoned building to be left behind ten blocks up South Carrollton Avenue from the new store location. And now in the post-KTMB New Orleans defined by ruin and abandonment, this should be an even more pronounced issue, not an overlooked consequence of new development. Currently, the South Carrollton/Earhart store now just sits there empty--with all of the outdoor signage identifying the store as a Walgreens removed within the past couple of months. Hmmmmm.

I consider this yet another example of what I am defining as the "ramrod opportunism" spawn in New Orleans post-KTMB by those with desires that pre-KTMB would be very difficult in fulfilling. Many of the voices that would otherwise fight this Walgreen's project (and successfully fought it for the past five years) are busy trying to get their lives back together--unfortunately, some in other cities altogether or others dealing with rebuilding and re-establishing their once-flooded homes/businesses here in New Orleans. Other examples of the post-KTMB "ramrod opportunism": Ruth's Chris Sellout corporate headquarters bolting to Orlando courtesy of CEO Craig S. Miller, the not even debatable eradication of the Tulane School of Engineering and Newcomb College by Tulane President Scott Cowen and Tulane Provost Lester Lefton, and Entergy's soon-to-be-confirmed minimized, if not eliminated entirely, corporate presence in New Orleans. Pre-KTMB these changes surely would have faced an uphill battle--or at least generate enough opposition to make them un palatable.

UPDATE: The Mime: The Blog has pointed out another obvious case of ramrod opportunism brought about in the aftermath of KTMB: the ammending of the state casino laws by the Mississippi State Legislature to now allow land-based casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.


At March 14, 2006 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several years of blighted property versus some sign of life in this neighborhood. Hmmm. I think I'll take the blighted property option.

Let's get the best we can for the community instead of some unrealistic goal where we end up cutting off our nose to spite our face.

It ain't perfect and it is getting snuck through, but we should probably accept it as punishment for a planning process which isn't about real good of the community, but is about posturing and posing. If you like brinkmanship, you've got to accept that when you lose, you lose bad.

If a healthier attitude of compromise and consensus had been around, we wouldn't have been in this position. No one wants to give anything up for the global good anymore.


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