Subway drops controversial plan for Magazine Street location

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The strip mall in the 4600 block of Magazine Street. (image via city of New Orleans)

The Subway sandwich shop that became the latest flashpoint in the conversation about chain restaurants on Magazine Street has withdrawn its application to open in a partially vacant strip mall there, New Orleans city officials said.

Subway began seeking permission to open a new location a corner space of the strip mall at 4637 Magazine Street back in February, but the project drew increasing opposition from neighbors and local-business advocacy groups as it moved forward. In the first meeting after District B City Councilman Jay H. Banks took office, the Subway request was pending on the agenda on deadline, so he asked the council to vote in favor of it to keep the item from dying but promised to investigate the controversy further before giving it final passage — just as he did with a similarly controversial proposal for an ice cream parlor on Louisiana Avenue.

At the Thursday (Aug. 9) meeting of the Council, the Subway item appeared again on the regular agenda, right next to the return of the ice-cream shop as well — which Banks led the Council in voting, in a reversal from his May position, to deny. When the Subway item was read, the clerk said simply that it had been withdrawn “per the applicant’s request,” and no one spoke for or against it.

After the meeting, Banks said he had worked over the summer to establish a set of operating conditions and provisos that would improve the overall condition of the strip mall, so that the opening of the Subway would be a net benefit to the neighborhood. Those negotiations, however, did not get far, Banks said.

“We had worked diligently to come to a compromise that would have included the cleanup of the cosmetic look of the strip mall, but we were notified that the owners were not interested in doing that,” Banks said.

By withdrawing the proposal, the property owners can return to the City Council with a new take on the project whenever they want to — unlike a denial, which would have enforced a set period before they could propose anything similar. Banks said the owners did not discuss any future plans with him.

“Whether or not they are going to come back with another proposal, we won’t know until they do so,” Banks said.

Some neighbors had opposed the project because they said the fast-food shop would be a poor fit for the neighborhood and historic street, but local-business advocacy groups have argued that national chains harm the competitive environment on Magazine Street by agreeing to rents that only large corporations, rather than small businesses, can afford. Some cities have even begun adopting ordinances limiting national chains on historic corridors, but Banks said he has yet to examine any similar legislation in New Orleans.

“Conceptually, I get the fact that local is better. I love New Orleans businesses,” Banks said. “But I also know some people in New Orleans also like some national chains.”

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