City planners endorse “Fallen Saint” immersive theatre venue in Lower Garden District

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The warehouse at 1152 Magazine Street is slated to be renovated into a venue for “The Fallen Saint” immersive theatre production. The taller building between it and the Pontchartrain Expressway is not part of the proposal. (via city of New Orleans)

As the first hearing before city officials approaches for a warehouse on Magazine Street slated to be converted into the venue for an avant-garde immersive theatre project called “The Fallen Saint,” Lower Garden District residents are continuing an increasingly heated debate about whether its traffic will revitalize that corner of the neighborhood or overburden it.

The proposal by Lower Garden District residents Seth and Rosa Dunlap to redevelop a warehouse at 1152 Magazine Street — practically underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway — into the permanent venue for a show that will plunge visitors into a Prohibition-era jazz story, with multiple small performances simultaneously ongoing in different spaces within the building. They propose eight shows a week — once a day during the week, and two on the weekends — with a restaurant and cafe operating full-time during the day and during the show, and would like to be open in time for Jazz Fest 2019.

Early concept art for one of the performance spaces in “The Fallen Saint,” an immersive theatre production slated for the warehouse at 1152 Magazine Street. (courtesy of Proximity Entertainment)

The project needs a conditional-use permit from the city to become a bar with live entertainment as its secondary use, and that request is scheduled to have its first appearance before the City Planning Commission on Tuesday afternoon. The city planners who reviewed the proposal are recommending the commissioners approve it, saying it meets the goal of the master plan to increase walkability of major commercial corridors.

“The proposed commercial use will improve walkability and increase visitors on a relatively underused stretch of Magazine Street,” the City Planning staff report states. “The proposal would activate this portion of Magazine Street and help to connect the active part of the Central Business District to the active part of the Magazine Street commercial corridor.”

Some neighbors, however, remain unconvinced. The Dunlaps presented their idea in June to the Lower Garden District Association, but were asked to return in a month with more details. Last week, the Dunlaps returned, describing plans for outdoor security guards to ensure safety for patrons and calm for the neighborhood, as well as a range of options for parking involving leasing a variety of nearby lots or using other nearby property they own.

The parking plan they choose, Seth Dunlap said, will depend on the exact number of spaces the city requires, a figure the developers had yet to obtain in time for the Lower Garden District Association meeting.

“Once we have that number from the city, that’ll be something we’ll go and secure,” Seth Dunlap said at the July 16 meeting. “We have four or five viable options depending on the amount we need to satisfy.”

Neighbors’ other concern was what might become of the space in the future if “The Fallen Saint” moves out. David Halpern, an attorney representing the Monaghan family that owns property on the block, said his clients are concerned with the parking, the density, the noise control and how all those factors could be handled by a future owner.

“You could be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but someone else comes behind you and they’re a burden on everyone else,” Halpern said.

Rosa Dunlap said that, as nearby residents themselves, they would not a more intense use to take its place, and would be open to negotiating a “good-neighbor agreement” with the association to restrict what could happen later. Further, they reiterated that it will function as a restaurant during most of its opening hours, with shows only starting late at night — and that any noise will be drowned out by the freeway overhead.

“Being two blocks away, we don’t want to see a lower quality tenant or a higher impact tenant,” Seth Dunlap said. “We’re some of the closest residents. We don’t want a high impact tenant as well.”

Louis Costa, a longtime Lower Garden District active who was instrumental in the formation of the original Coliseum Square Association and preservation of the neighborhood, said he was more generally concerned about the growing proliferation of bars and entertainment venues.

“What does this neighborhood want Magazine Street to be?” Costa asked. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with their project, over there by the bridge on the edge. Do we want Frenchman Street? I’m just asking, how many liquor licenses are we going to approve of?”

Jane Murdock, who owned the Bridge Lounge for 10 years, shared Costa’s concern that a snowball effect will encourage more bars to congregate nearby. Residents who fought to renovate homes and remember the crime that was drawn to the neighborhood’s bars in the 1980s will fight against the return of more drinking establishments, she said.

“This is going to be the most divisive issue in our neighborhood,” Murdock said. “You will split the neighborhood in two.”

Dave Quinlan, however, said he is one of the only actual residents of the block, and all the developments that have brought more people to the area have made it safer.

“With every one of those things moving in, it’s gotten better,” Quinlan said. “Before, it was a scary block, and now it’s a nicer place to live. What they’re doing is a huge sigh of relief for us.”

The Lower Garden District Association board briefly considered a motion to support the Dunlaps’ project with the condition of a good-neighbor agreement, but worried that they would not be able to negotiate the terms quickly enough to help. Instead, the association board opted to continue the discussion via email, and board president Ryan Kropog said Monday morning that he hopes to have a decision in time for Tuesday’s meeting of the City Planning Commission.

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