Owen Courreges: Wendell Pierce versus the New Orleans gentrifiers

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"Treme" actor Wendell Pierce marches with students from his character's school in the Krewe of Carrollton in February 2012. (Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger.com)

“Treme” actor Wendell Pierce marches with students from his character’s school in the Krewe of Carrollton in February 2012. (Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger.com)

Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

Sometimes, you just have to sit back, watch, and eat some popcorn.

At least, that was my personal reaction to viewing the ongoing battles between local actor, producer, and businessman Wendell Pierce and local neighborhood groups and advocacy organizations. The battle started back in July when Pierce and his business partner, former mayoral candidate Troy Henry, proposed to redevelop a former auto parts store on St. Claude Avenue.

Predictably, this was met with opposition from local busybodies, a.k.a. The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA). Their objections seemed to spawn from the fact that the existing structure, which is nondescript, heavily blighted, and has been drastically modified over the years, would not be preserved.

Pierce then proceeded to Twitter, where he released a couple of Tweets signaling his displeasure to the FMIA’s opposition and suggesting ulterior motives.

“Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association – trying to steal a property from me to stop my business on St.Claude. Not hipster enough? Gentrification,” Pierce’s first scathing Tweet read. “Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association is just a front for developers posing as civic activists to dominate and control the real estate for profit,” read the second.

Pierce was probably on-point, to at least some degree, on both counts. He has a history of not being on-board with the prevailing agenda of gentrifying impoverished neighborhoods in New Orleans’ so-called “core neighborhoods.”

Three years ago, I wrote a column describing another battle between Pierce and the Coliseum Square Association (CSA), which purports to represent the entire Lower Garden District. He wanted to build a grocery/gas station in an industrial zone near the river and faced opposition because the project would require rezoning.

At that time, I sided with Pierce and slammed the ironically-acronymed CSA, noting that the group’s “default position is to keep properties out of commerce, to maintain the disuse.” Such a planning scheme “depends on having a steady stream of investors willing to grovel and ultimately conform, even when it might cost them profitability.”

Of course, the FMIA denies being anti-development. Lisa Suarez, president of the FMIA, opined that “[w]e don’t want to keep those parcels that are empty, empty, we want sensitive development.” That’s basically saying that they don’t want to destroy the good, but you insist upon the perfect. And their vision of the “perfect” is not something that others might find desirable.

In any event, the fracas died down in the public eye and Pierce’s Tweets were soon forgotten. However, in September, an inadvertently-released email reignited the firestorm. The email from Cheron Brylski, a local political consultant, was directed towards two notoriously anti-development organizations: the Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents & Associates and the French Quarter Citizens group.

NBC News described the contents of the email thusly:

In the memo, Brylski writes in one particular district race that residents may donate services “even though it appears the vote counts are not favorable for a white candidate in that district” and that the two groups she was consulting should continue to “feel out” a black member of city council “who is increasingly concerned about voting with the “whites” on the Council.”

Mentioned later in the memo is a need for “black spokespersons” and the suggestion that two white council members may feel “increasingly isolated as the “whites” who are against development.”

That last bit about being the “whites” against development apparently stuck in Pierce’s craw, given his background in dealing with predominantly-white neighborhood groups and their anti-development tendencies. Accordingly, this past week Pierce penning an opinion piece for NBC News in which he accused Brylski and the groups she was advising of racism.

“Taken in isolation, none of the details has the shock value of an epithet or the N-word, but seeing them all together in one memo reveals racism far more damaging than a verbal insult,” Pierce wrote. “It should have been a scandal, but in a sad commentary, it barely got any notice from a local press apparently all too compliant with those in high society who throw fancy parties at Carnival time.”

Pierce later concluded: “The recent attempts by New Orleans’s wealth and power to blackwash their image while a compliant local media whitewashed the story of their racially motivated machinations shows that social structures built over hundreds of years have not yet been demolished.”

Pierce is right. The memo should have gotten more attention. I probably should have written about it before now, because it’s disturbing on multiple levels.

First, the memo shows that these old-guard neighborhood groups tend to view elections through a strictly racial lens. To the extent they engage blacks, they intend to do so simply by trotting out a token black spokesperson. It’s shameless and appears even worse behind the scenes.

Secondly, the memo indicates that holding up development in this city is viewed as strictly a “white” thing. Pierce didn’t expand on this point (which is undoubtedly personal to him) but it’s crucial because those reflexively opposed to development also tend to be pushing gentrification. The only types of development that are welcomed with open arms – given every waiver and dispensation imaginable – are those aimed at a wealthier, whiter crowd.

Thirdly, the memo shows how numb we are to the prevailing agenda of New Orleans’ white elites. We know that they to “fix” old neighborhoods by forcing out existing residents. We know that they seek to consolidate power for themselves. We aren’t shocked by it.

That’s why my inclination is simply to break out the popcorn and watch. Despite Pierce’s national plea, there’s no expectation that anything will change. Perhaps we all need to start acknowledging a bitter truth: for our city, that strategy isn’t working.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

43 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: Wendell Pierce versus the New Orleans gentrifiers

  1. Lisa Suares is a front for developers??? Absolute nonsense. Ive known Lisa for decades and the accusation is from the truly misinformed. Mr Pierce is really wrong on this. As is UM.

    • Hudson,

      Not necessarily her individually, but in general neighborhood associations push policies that tend to support established players and promote gentrification. I don’t think it’s strictly some kind of conspiracy, but I don’t think Pierce is off-base at all.

  2. I have dog in this fight. But Cheron Brylski is no racist or bigot. She is no elitist either. She is a savvy political strategist that recognizes the realities of the Louisiana voting landscape. I doubt she condones very much of the backwards way we do politics around here.

    Mr Pierce however, seems to enjoy using terms like “white boy” and “gentrification” which I am certain displays racial prejudice. So it’s time he puts his big boy pants on and deals with the same opposition we all have to deal with when working with these overbearing New Orleans neighborhood associations.

    • Jackie,

      I don’t know Brylski, but I’ve found her hypocritical in the past and this memo of hers really seemed to be abetting the worst impulses of these associations. She always seems to be cropping up as a hired gun for people and groups I personally wouldn’t associate with.

      I don’t always agree with Pierce, either. His recent Tweet about gun control that’s been making the rounds was both offensive and wrong. I don’t think that’s the case here.

      • Brylski is a long time advisor to the Landrieu and Morial families. She might be the pre-eminent expert on racial politics in the city. If she says you need a black representative, believe her.

        • Deux,

          Alternatively, she’s a hired gun telling people what they already want to believe. Regardless, the memo is very revealing.

          • I would say it is more confirming than revealing. Surely an astute observer like yourself already knew that many political votes and decisions are heavily influenced by perceived racial angles.

  3. I don’t always agree with you, but in this case you are spot on, and it’s aggravating as hell. I’ll be watching, also, but I don’t expect much to change.

  4. Pierce’s “Twitter #2” is right on target for most of the neighborhood groups I have observed for the past 35-40 years – almost totally serving the interest of a few in the “in crowd” and used by developers who hire high-priced mouth pieces for the groups to carry their water. The battle for the river front has been going on in one way or another for years. They (developers) are like the Mafia families – they seem to have it divided up now, but every now and again an interloper stirs the pot.

    • People do like to pick and choose the dirt to support their arguments don’t they… no mention of Mr. Henry’s property theft via his connections at NORA.

      “New Orleans Redevelopment Authority used the state’s “priority bid” law to take the property off the auction block. Instead, NORA was able to sell the property directly to Henry’s company, Infinity Fuels, for $19,900.”

      Try to buy a property in that area on St. Claude for that price…good luck at 5 times that price. THIS is the story that is swept under the rug in this piece.

      …a shadowy white elitist government led by individuals that no one seems to know by name, hipsters and gentrification…this piece has it all… bravo. No mention of tiny houses?

    • Being Troy Henrys partner is as big of a red flag as it gets.

      Interesting that is left out in this story.

      A simple story looks for good and bad guys, a real story is that they are all bad.

    • Fat Harry,

      You’re not the first person who has brought this up to me, but frankly it isn’t relevant here. Yes, the property was purchased years ago under dubious circumstances. No wrongdoing has ever been proven, but it doesn’t pass the smell test. So I’m not saying Henry is above reproach. However, the issue being dealt with here is whether or not to approve redevelopment of commercial properties, and the control exerted by neighborhood organizations over this. On that point, I think Pierce is correct.

      • Not relevant? What is relevant is that a decades long chain of Henry’s and Piece’s have done to this building what we see today. If a neighborhood group had been around when all of these modifications were enacted, then we wouldn’t have the steaming pile of dog-doo we see there now. Stop being so short sighted.

  5. Owen,

    Assuming the absence of the availability public investment, how exactly is it possible to improve a neighborhood without attracting higher income residents that fund those improvements? I understand that many of the people in our core neighborhoods feel like their areas are under attack from those on the outside.
    Gentrification as a word is thrown around too much these days without really asking what it actually takes to enact changes. Is it always a bad thing? One can never assume, but I would venture to guess Mr. Pierce is capitalized at least as well as many of the hated “gentrifiers” who are “preying” on these neighborhoods. How would his development(s) be any better or different, save for the fact that he is actually from the neighborhood or a minority? I agree that the above is disturbing and I agree that most, if not all, neighborhood associations throughout the city have been a tremendous boon to development. It is astonishing the power these groups have been able to wield over the growth of the city since the storm and I think it would be worth examining the connections further. In my opinion, anyone with a funded to plan to bring a previously vacant/blighted property back to commerce, whether or not they are from the neighborhood, should be able to reasonably go about this plan.

  6. Someone should mention that the proposal is to tear down a vintage camelback to expand a gas station. Not to worry, city protection for historic New Orleans is dead, and the celeb will get his new convenience store.

    • Deux,

      Come now, the proposal is to tear down an old box. That structure has been so heavily-modified over time that it lacks virtually all of the features that would make it worth preserving. It’s essentially a shell. I’ve spoken in favor of preserving historic structures before, but this is taking it to bizarre and extreme levels.

      • As I said, not to worry. I think that building is easily restorable, and you ignore that it is the present owners who ran it down. None of that matters. In a pinch, Pierce could always say it was built by white supremacists to house white immigrants who took jobs from black people. Of course, all he has to say is look at me, I’m famous.

        • Deux,

          Easily restorable? It has no millwork. The interior was been gutted for an auto parts store. It could only be restored to anything vaguely resembling original specs at enormous expense. Even before it was run down, it was not a candidate for preservation.

          • That’s why we have experts in the city’s employ to resolve such questions, but they lost interest in preserving our past. The interior is irrelevant, and the basic box is valuable.

          • Deux,

            See, that just strikes me as extreme and ridiculous. “The basic box is valuable?” That’s preservation taken to fanatical levels, and it turns people off to the very idea.

          • I think it is part of the accepted aesthetic in the preservation of old neighborhoods that things like shape and massing and placement on the lot and roof lines and such things are really key.

  7. Owen you are just a shill here. I thought you were smarter that being baited into this argument but are taking it hook line and sinker. Sometimes people also just want better development. Pierce is just a regular old FOR PROFIT developer using his celebrity and his race to stomp competition. Need proof? Why don’t you look in you own back yard? Pierce, used every trick in the book to open a “fresh local grocer” as he described it on Tchoupitoulas recently. He said that the area needed fresh alternatives, that locals needed HIS great ideas. He was ALL about the neighborhood. He didn’t vet it with the local associations, he sidestepped local regulations and went WELL afoul of zoning and even STARTED construction BEFORE he was given approval for huge zoning changes he needed to operate.
    What is this AMAZING fresh grocer? It’s the truckstop Shell station where you can get a slim jim and a lottery ticket. It also put a gas station right in the middle of a block where zoning didn’t allow it. See Owen, when you drop a gas station in an area that is just starting to get redeveloped, history shows that IT is the controlling development and the things that follow tend to be lower end commercial that surround it instead of raising the bar and enticing better development it ensures the lowest common denominator.
    That’s who Wendel Pierce is, just a P.T. Barnum and you Owen are amazed by the elephants. As Mr. Barnum famously said…”There’s a sucker born every minute.”

    • Privateer,

      “Better development?” I really don’t care what a gaggle of busybodies think about what constitutes “better development.” You’re right, Pierce is motivated by profit. But that motivation — coming from a person who is actually returning properties to commerce — strikes me as far superior to the agenda of any self-appointed neighborhood association. He and his partner own the property and are backing up their plans with an actual financial investment, as opposed to blathering about how they think somebody else’s property should be used.

      As for the gas station along Tchoup, I wrote an entire column on the subject, which is linked to above. As I stated there, I find the notion that the industrial riverfront is an inappropriate location for a much-needed new gas station to be stupid and indefensible. There was only a technical zoning issue, and the CSA had virtually no interest in the matter.

      In any event, talking about certain types of commercial development as the “lowest common denominator” and trying to thwart “low end commercial” just goes to prove my point. You want neighborhood organizations to only allow development that appeals to a wealthier crowd, thus ensuring that government forces gentrification. This is precisely what I’m arguing against.

      • Watch it on the ” gaggle of busybodies” Owen. That sounds a bit too much like a personal attack. Those “gaggles” happened to make the exact street you live on safe and desirable again WAY before you chose to buy there. You want to argue that? In fact I would ague that you wouldn’t have chosen that block if they hadn’t been involved to “gentrify” in the in the 70’s and 80’s. I’d love to see the house you would have bought across from the filling station quickiemart on Prytania if everything below Jackson had gone commercial and demolitions hadn’t been curbed by the local busybodies. Which is exactly what was being pushed. See, so its worked out for you. Sorry if you think all property ownership should simply be a free for all regardless of use or at least the uses YOU find politically appealing and convenient for your next diatribe. I’ll tell you something else, buying an unused piece of property and “putting it into commerce regardless of how it affects the future of a neighborhood and changing zoning just to make your money it is pigheaded , anti neighbor and driven by pure greed. You are arguing for , buy -make your profit -and get out. That’s why neighborhood associations exist, to be a watchdog for people like that and apparently you. P.s. I didn’t start my reply with “why do we care what one ambulance chaser with a computer thinks.” so stop trying to make a red herring argument and take a moral high ground as if you have one. I’m talking about greed and development at the cost of the future of a neighborhood. I’m talking about GAS STATIONS. I’m talking about chains, I’m talking about ugly commercialization for the sake of profit alone. I love that now its about rich vs. poor and back vs white for you now. How trendy and ridiculous. Talk about low hanging fruit. Your argument is easy because there are no consequences to neighbors in your construct, only thing being built right? How can that be bad?

        • Privateer,

          My street is still mostly apartments, and my house is a former Bed and Breakfast. It’s a block off the Garden District, and it’s always been a decent area. To the extent people have moved in and renovated homes, that’s a good thing whether it’s gentrification or not. But that’s a different matter from efforts that force existing residents out over time using the power of government.

          You’re trying to portray me as a hypocrite on this, but I’m not. I don’t support zoning generally, and to the extent it does have to exist, I believe that it should merely serve to constrain conflicting uses that constitute actual nuisances. This is opposed to our current zoning regime that favors upscale uses in the name of protecting property values and promoting gentrification to the detriment of lower-income residents. People need convenience stores and people need gas stations. They want cheap take-out and yes, fast food. So long as these businesses aren’t creating a nuisance, I don’t see a legitimate basis for restricting them in favor of upscale boutiques and sit-down restaurants.

          Finally, you seem to think that I know who you are, but I don’t. Nothing I’m saying to you is personal. You’re posting under a pseudonym.

          • We will have to simply to continue to disagree on all of this. I’m not trying to portray you as a hypocrite because you are enjoying the fruits of a neighborhood association but I am accusing you of being ignorant regarding the the history of the street you live on and your neighborhood in general (LGD) and the absolute fact that virtually everything in that neighborhood was saved by a small group of families that eventually founded the CSA and then went onto found the PRC. That bunch of “busybodies” removed the onramp to the bridge on Camp that made the park come back. That same group spearheaded the fight that kept the I10 from traveling on the river in front of the Quarter. That same group and others like them kept most of the old neighborhoods from being torn down. I can tell you that literally thousands of demolition requests have been thwarted in the LGD alone. If they had been successful you would have a neighborhood that resembles –well nothing. You probably don’t think that matters much but that places you in direct contrast to the vast majority of the people who live in New Orleans.
            I also don’t think you know me personally, I’m speaking to the blanket statement grenades that you continue to lob at neighborhood associations in general. I get incredibly frustrated with these groups as well and occasionally boil over because of some of the “old guard” mentality however I choose to be progressive through them rather than trying to tear them down. You on the other hand are literally the antithesis of what makes cities unique and interesting when it comes to everything unique and interesting. Your entire perspective is skewed and are in the absolute minority as far as basic good city planning and best practices.

            “People need convenience stores and people need gas stations. They want cheap take-out and yes, fast food.”

            So therefore your perspective is they should be everywhere they want to be. Well tell that to Boston, NYC, Los Angeles, San Fransico, Chicago, Charleston, Austin, Ashville and on and on and on. All of those cites have extreme restrictions on all of those types of businesses based on quality of life. That’s right ,quality of life. It also preserves small business ownership. The fact that you ” don’t see a legitimate basis for restricting them in favor of upscale boutiques and sit-down restaurants” is just you trying to skew the argument towards you rich white guy narrative. Not every small shop is fancy nor every restaurant that you sit in is expensive. This city is LITTERED with mom and pop shops and food of all colors. These policies that you think are so restrictive allow for these types of places to open and not get trounced by corporate clothing and fast food.

            For the record,
            I am in the Film Industry and also a developer
            and I can tell you that sometimes we just have to not be so greedy. Developers are some of the greediest SOB’s that ever existed (just like lawyers). Sometimes you just have to build something that works with the neighborhood even if you make a little less than you want. The truth is (and I wholeheartedly believe this) the ONLY thing that protects the general populace against all out demolition in favor of the next big profit is the voice of the neighbors. It has played out the same way in this town for decades upon decades.
            Lastly, as far as the outrage regarding the email by Brylski. You’ve got it all wrong as does Pierce (although his is an act). A you know, she is considered an absolute bonafide expert on political relations in this town. It appears to me that it is the powers that be are being determined to be racists by the experts and she was trying to find a way through that quagmire. Pierce knows this and is using that to play his game so he can succeed with his next venture.
            This is all about a Streetcar Named Desire (of money) . The racism is just greasing rails.

  8. All sides of this story seem to have relevance.

    The neighborhood groups do hate development, but they are not racist, as such. They are just idiots, and they hate all development. As a business owner, I can attest that they will fight business owners of any color – it is change of any sort that they seek to stop. They hate gentrification as much as Mr. Pierce. They are only looking at using black spokespeople now because they think it will be necessary to appeal to the majority black council now in place. They did not apply this strategy when they had Clarkson, Palmer, Head, and Guidry. Now they see they are losing their battle to stop New Orleans from the change that is inevitable, and the desperation is showing through their use of ridiculous tactics.

    What’s missing from all of this is that all sides are completely misunderstanding the issue. Gentrification is a process that is a demographic shift that is happening and will continue to happen. It is not controlled by either side, nor can it be stopped by either side. We have a new generation of people that value the historic city for what it is, and they want to be there. That desire to be there will affect change even if that is not their intent, as these new people have a natural tendency to want to improve the environment as they move in, and businesses see new opportunities to serve the wants and needs of these new people.

    Everything else is just theater, so yes, grab your popcorn, Mr. Courreges.

    • Nicole,

      Neighborhood organizations don’t necessarily hate all development. Rather, they tend to hate commercial development that isn’t upscale. A sit-down restaurant will have far fewer hurdles to jump than a place that primarily serves take out. A grocery will find it easier to open than a convenience store. There are more places where you can build single-family homes than apartments, and neighborhood organizations will hold developers’ feet to the flame on those restrictions. The list goes on.

      I don’t think you’re correct about gentrification. It can be a purely natural process, but it is also often accelerated or even forced through government intervention. That’s what we’re dealing with here, and it does matter and should be stopped.

      • Well, as the owner of a sit down restaurant that has dealt with neighborhood opposition for years and years, I disagree with your point. Yes, there may be a little bit more heated fight against a corner store, but every business can face insurmountable opposition – like the Gabrielle incident. Of course, my generalization went too far, as there are neighborhood associations, like Freret, that welcome businesses, but they are few and far between.

        Regarding gentrification, policies can slow it down or accelerate it, agreed – but nothing, nothing, will stop it, because no one is driving it. It’s just like tourism. The more loved a place becomes, the more it becomes affected and changed by the very process of people loving it too much. The days of New Orleans being a blighted backwater, the ruins of wealth fleeing to the suburbs, are over. People love the city again, and they will prove it with their feet and their pocketbooks.

        If the city government or concerned groups want to do something about it, rather than trying to prevent the inevitable, they should focus on acquiring properties to develop affordable housing, or offer incentives for private interests to do so, rather than crying foul about hipsters and yuppies. The carrot is much more powerful than the stick.

  9. This is unfortunate, careless and disappointing journalism. You should seriously re-evaluate your barrage of snarky accusations on behalf of Wendall Pierce. FMIA are ‘busybodies’? Clearly you’ve seen what happens to neighborhoods without preservation. Are you informed about what Bono wants to build there? Tearing down (your words: redevelop) a 19th-century camelback (your words: nondescript existing structure) to add onto what is currently a barely operational, blighted gas station? FMIA is only doing what it was created to do; preserve historic structures and neighborhood fabric. Pierce’s dramatic, uninformed attacks and use of celebrity status are unfounded and obnoxious. Does Wendall Pierce have to play by the same rules everyone else does? YES. Even if you are born here? YES. Next topic.

    • Dan,

      See my response above to Deux Amors. I stand by my description of the camelback as a “nondescript existing structure.” It has no millwork and has been excessively modified. It is essentially a giant box at this point, and no, it isn’t worth preserving.

      There are procedures for demolition in New Orleans and Pierce is following them. He doesn’t deserve to be hamstrung by neighborhood orgs spouting pretextual nonsense about preserving a building with virtually no remaining architectural value.

      • While waiting for my other reply to post, let me add that you confuse the preservation of individual structures and the preservation of districts. When sentient, our historic commissions are charged with maintaining the character and appearance of historic districts, and that includes preservation of less than glorious structures and restrictions on even noble new projects like convenience stores.

  10. Perrin,

    How do you improve a neighborhood without attracting higher income residents to fund them? Funding for infrastructure isn’t done at the neighborhood level, so the answer is that you use scarce funds wisely, develop bond issues, seek state and federal funds, etc. You don’t need to force out the poor and bring in the rich, certainly not with the force of government backing it up.

    Gentrification is not always a bad thing. If a neighborhood changes organically over the time without government meddling, that’s perfectly acceptable. It’s normal change, and it happens all the time. But when it’s a top-down imposition by government, abetted or instigated by neighborhood groups, that’s wrong. It’s one group using government power to push other people around — people who happen to be existing residents.

  11. Great observation Perrin. I am all for development. I personally believe the social justice movement of the 21st Century is economic development. As president of Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Assoc I personally solicited TJ Max/Marshalls to redevelop the Gentility Woods Mall, along with Adrian’s Bakery(small local business). I sit on the Idea Village Board, a group focused on redevelopment and entrepreneurs. But when certain development is blocked and others not, you have to call it like it is. In an earlier post, someone said I need to “put on my big boy pants” when it comes to politics in NOLA. Oh I’m already wearing them. But when the racist memo is leaked, you have to expose it for the hypocrisy it is. These civic groups say one thing but do another. They put on a public face of inclusion and strategize to segregate. I only took to Twitter after FMIA approached a friend and stated they were coming for my property and quote ” we just don’t want HIM there”. These non profits illegally participate in politics ignoring their 501c3 status. Their agenda comes before law. I appreciate Owen shedding light on it, and even taking me to task. But I can’t afford to sit back eat popcorn and watch. When evil people plot, good people have to plan. You get to choose who I am.

  12. Owen,

    You’ve got it all wrong.

    You should have titled your piece “Wendell Pierce, Troy Henry and other predatory, liquor sales motivated gas station owners VERSUS New Orleans neighbors trying to live without blight and parking lots in pre-war scale housing.” The true victims are the St. Roch neighbors who have lived next to blight that has been perpetuated and worsened for years by Wendell Pierce/Troy Henry/Infinity Fuels.

    You introduce your article by referencing the fight over 2501 St. Claude Ave. and then tying Wendell Pierce’s tiff with the FMIA over that camelback to the racial debate sparked by that leaked FQ consultant memo. The problem is, as several commenters have stated quite well, you’re mixing storylines here and the true tragedy is this: neighbors living on the other side of St. Claude (the St. Roch side where the building stands) are at the mercy of several GAS STATION/LIQUOR STORE OWNERS WHO CARE ABOUT NOTHING BUT PROFIT.
    (The race debate and the lack of coverage of Wendell Pierce’s op/ed article are a different tragedy, I agree with you on that. Confusing it with the blight issue, however, is what I’m critiquing in this comment.)

    Wendell Pierce/Troy Henry/Infinity Fuel’s strategy is simple: if the city won’t approve the demo for liquor store expansion then they’ll
    just sit on the building for years until it’s such an eyesore that people will beg them to tear it down. During those years, they’ll probably spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees keeping the code enforcement case tied up (to prevent code enforcement from taking and selling it as blighted property). Meanwhile, they’ll vilify the HDLC and FMIA (while ignoring the FSRIA – neighborhood association of St. Roch), drop race and gentrification into the mix to distract the public, and take advantage of the St. Roch neighbors where this property actually is located.


    Owen, Troy and Wendell’s blight perpetuation was well documented in the second nola.com article on the subject a while back:


    Yet, the Marigny and gentrification are all people catch in headlines so that’s what gets repeated. Your headline is catchy, but it’s off.

    What’s sad is that Troy Henry could have passed on the property and it would have been renovated back in 2011 by someone else. He has more than enough room to expand the shell station on the massive concrete parcel that currently exists. Troy Henry can still let it go and make a killing on the sale. His greed, however, prevents him from acting rationally (to the delight of his legal counsel, no doubt). Meanwhile, Wendell Pierce uses his celebrity to cry foul and people like you, Owen, regurgitate his position without understanding the true story.

    St. Roch is plagued by neglegent business owners who take advantage of blight, are demolition happy and giddy with excitement at the thought of expanding their concrete empires, all at the expense of neighbors while flaunting regulations meant to maintain quality of life. FMIA is a red herring here. St. Roch neighbors are the ones attending the hearings and crying NIMBY, because these issues are in their backyards.

    Cases in point:

    QUICKY’S on Franklin and N. Claiborne: bought the massive and historic O.C. Haley school across the street, applied for a demolition
    permit but then pulled it; meanwhile they’ve left the back entrance open to the school allowing gutter punks and transients to ravage it from the inside out, thus accelerating its blight.

    MELBA’S on Elysian Fields and N. Robertson: paved over several parcels behind the store without applying for permits, obtaining CPC approval, etc. (knowing that they probably wouldn’t have received approval had they applied).

    INFINITY FUELS: well, we know this one…letting the auto parts store at 2501 St. Claude rot for 5 years so that it can be demolished and replaced by a Sterling Express that sells liquor and bananas.

    (By the way, Troy Henry must drool with envy every time he thinks of Hank’s just down the street from his Shell station and how Hank’s is
    making gobs and gobs of cash with its vast liquor and beer selection. “But I want my Shell station to be a big liquor store TOO!!!”)

    As a result, St. Roch looks more and more like Detroit every day…empty lots an empty houses, oh and some liquor stations that sell gas.

    Owen, note how the above has little to do with the FMIA, and nothing to do with race or gentrification – it’s a simple story of business owners ignoring/skirting city regulations at the expense of neighbors and to the detriment of St. Roch’s quality of life.

    Write a story about that for a change.

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