The New Orleans City Council gave enthusiastic approval to a plan to remodel the former Blockbuster Video building at the edge of the Garden District into a CVS pharmacy, but several members said the city should be looking for a way to restrict the growing density of chain stores on Magazine Street.
The discussion of the CVS at Magazine and Louisiana began with a fairly congenial discussion of the plan for the store. The building originally housed an Eckerd’s Drug Store, but the developers needed city permission to reunite all the floor space (currently divided into several units) in the building into a single business of more than 5,000 square feet.
Attorney Michael Sherman, representing CVS, said that the building will get a complete redesign, based in large part on input gathered in “countless meetings” with neighbors and city officials. New Orleans “isn’t a city with neighborhoods but a city of neighborhoods,” Sherman said, and added he was particularly grateful for the suggestions of local architects who live near the site.
“What we’re ending up with, thanks to the work with the community and the city planning staff, is a really beautiful building that looks like it belongs on Magazine Street,” Sherman said.
City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell also noted the improvements to the building.
“In terms of the design of the building, they were very conscious of working with the community to make sure that it was right,” Cantrell said. “I just want to say, ‘Thank you,’ for that.”
CVS is still working out the final details of a good-neighbor agreement with the Garden District Association, one Sherman described as among the most comprehensive he’s ever seen. Shelley Landrieu of the Garden District Association said they were still negotiating some issues such as the hours for security guards, but agreed that the process is “very close,” and Cantrell said she would hold the ordinance allowing the CVS until that agreement is signed.
The primary practical concern expressed by many residents around the CVS — including one speaker on Thursday — is whether the sale of alcohol at the store will lead to increased crime in the neighborhood. City Council president Stacy Head said, however, that she lives near the CVS on Prytania and that it is “incredibly well run,” safe and a benefit to the neighborhood.
“It’s all about how the business chooses to operate,” Head said.
Head’s concern — not for this CVS in particular, but as a general trend — is that so many national retailers are moving onto Magazine Street and intensifying the uses there, she said.
“We’ve asked City Planning to come up with some way to discourage that,” she says. “So far, we haven’t come up with solution. There has to be a solution out there. One of the problems is the national retailers pay a lot, and the developers obviously want to make the short-term dollars, and it doesn’t necessarily inure to the ultimate long-term benefit of the area and the entirety of Magazine Street.”
San Fransisco, for example, requires all chain businesses to seek a conditional-use permit from the city, which may deter some chains from even attempting to open, according to a 2013 article at Salon.com. What New Orleans needs, Head said, is a constitutional way to define a “saturation point” for chain retailers on the city’s business corridors.
“What that will do is that will push them to places like Claiborne Avenue where we are embracing them and delighted to have them,” Head said. “We could have one on LaSalle Street and we’d be delighted to have one. We could have them in so many other parts of the city.”
Meanwhile, Cantrell concluded, the city also needs more general improvement on Louisiana Avenue, and she hopes the eventual conclusion of the new SELA drainage canal project will be a springboard for that. With that, the council voted without opposition in favor of the CVS.