With developers insisting that Walgreens is the most likely tenant of an multi-million dollar proposed renovation of the old American Legion buildling on Magazine Street, many of the nearly 200 people at a Wednesday-night town hall on the project focused their questions on the planned design of its modern, glass-wall facade and large rear parking lot and drive-through.
Many of the details of the nearly $6 million purchase and renovation had already been described by the leaders of three surrounding neighborhoods in a letter last month — with the exception of the new revelation that the store plans to sell beer and wine, in contrast to leaders’ previous expectation that no alcohol would be sold in the new Walgreens.
Walgreens executives have yet to commit to the Magazine Street project (which would include closing their location on Tchoupitoulas), said developer Louis Stirling Properties, but appear to be the tenant most likely to be able to pay the building’s $600,000 lease. Stirling’s plan for the building includes removing its brick front completely and replacing it with a glass wall with steel columns — not unlike nearby Whole Foods — and many residents asked why such a modern design was chosen.
“We’re modern architects,” replied architect Mac Ball of New Orleans. “We’re designing buildings now, not in the 19th century.”
Stirling noted his appreciation for the classic architecture of New Orleans, pointing out that he was the developer who redesigned the old Bultman Funeral Home for Borders on St. Charles Avenue. But the American Legion building’s architecture is not historic to be restored, he said.
“I like old. I love old,” Stirling said, describing his desire to develop buildings that will stand the test of time. “I also know that if I build a fake old one, half the people in this room are going to hate that, too. … I think modern architecture works better in this location than not.”
Stirling was also asked about the idea that because pharmacies with drive-through windows are explicitly mentioned in C-1A zoning, rather than the more general B-2 zoning of the American Legion property, it may not be allowed. Peter Aamodt, a vice president with Stirling, replied that many pharmacies in the city are zoned B-2 and that early conversations with the city planning staff suggest the use would be allowed.
At the audience’s urging, Stirling committed to continue meeting with the neighborhoods as the project develops. The company’s participation in Wednesday night’s town hall drew applause when pointed out several times during the meeting.
Referencing the recent controversy over the Romney Pilates Studio under construction just a block down the street, nearby resident Mark Zelden said he is still undecided on the Walgreens project, but that it should be judged on its own merits. Many Uptown residents were unpleasantly surprised by the shape of the large Romney building when its structure became clear in December, and Zelden urged Stirling not to “hedge” with the residents.
“Please, God forbid that we agree to something and we move forward and we find out that people weren’t straight with us,” Zelden said, to the loudest round of applause for the evening.
To read a recap of the meeting in its entirety, click in the box below for our live coverage from Wednesday night..