Lower Garden District neighbors question rezoning request for former corner store

A request to rezone a long-shuttered corner store on Josephine Street back into commercial use is raising questions among neighbors in the Lower Garden District, who say the lack of a specific tenant and the wide range of possible uses create the potential for trouble on a vulnerable residential block. Matt Hamdan of Metairie has owned the single-story brick building at 700 Josephine St. (at the intersection with Chippewa Street) since the early 1980s, he said at a recent meeting with neighbors. He building has been vacant since before Hurricane Katrina, when he closed the corner store there before, he said. During that time, it lost its commercial zoning, and the property is now classified for two-family residential.

Tech company Levelset hopes to impact local economy

by Christian Willbern, Uptown Messenger

Levelset, based in the Lower Garden District, is an example of the fast-growing tech industry in New Orleans. Since 2006, New Orleans has seen “more than 45 high-tech startup or subsidiaries,” which resulted in “the creation of more than 20,000 jobs,” according to U.S. News. Levelset provides a cloud-based payment and management platform for the construction industry, in an effort to cut through the slow pay cycles, burdensome paperwork and costly disputes in a what has been a relatively low-tech industry. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Business Dynamics Statistics, two out of three construction businesses fail within five years — more than any other industry. “The only reason businesses fail is because they run out of cash,” said Scott Wolfe Jr., Levelset’s founder and CEO.

Building on Sophie Wright Place applies for short-term rental approval

By Sue Strachan, Uptown Messenger

The wners of 1901-07 Sophie Wright Place met with neighbors in the Lower Garden District on Tuesday, Non. 16, about their plans to turn a second-floor unit into a short-term rental. 

Ash Salem, Raouf Mousa and Ralph Mousa (as 1901 Sophie Wright LLC)  purchased the property in April 2019. They also own apartment-rental units in Lakeview, Chalmette and Mid-City. Most people know the building as the location of the Munch Factory restaurant, located on the first floor, and its proximity to Half Moon Restaurant, Hi-Volt coffee shop and Il Mercato, an event rental space. There is a commercial permit for the property and the owners have already applied for STR permits for three second-floor units, two of which are already allowed by city ordinance, with the owners applying for a conditional use for one short-term rental in a HU-B1 zoning district (Historic Urban Neighborhood Business District).

Magazine Street office complex design needs more pizzazz, neighbors tell architects

By Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger

The monthly board meeting of the Lower Garden District Association on Monday featured a presentation on plans for a new office and retail building at 1335 Magazine St. The three-story building will include features such as meditation areas, a library, co-working space and a two-level terrace — making it stand out as a modern office building. “When you enter this courtyard, the idea is for it to feel like a spa,” said Patrick Schindler, president of Felicity Property Co., the real estate firm behind the project. But while the presenters promised that the space would be Zen, some audience members at the meeting seemed to think of the building plan was just Zzzz. “It does look square and boxy,” one member of the audience commented during the question-and-answer period.

Rep. Duplessis talks priorities, takes questions on homelessness at Lower Garden District Association meeting

By Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger

State Rep. Royce Duplessis, who represents House District 93, visited the Lower Garden District Association meeting on Monday for a question-and-answer session. District 93 includes parts of the Lower Garden District and Central City, where he lives. The election ended on Saturday for the voters, but it’s only just begun for legislators, who are now all vying for key committee positions. Duplessis said he’s working toward a spot on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Duplessis took Helena Moreno’s legislative seat in May 2018 after emerging victorious from a special primary election to replace Morena, who had been elected to her City Council at-large position.

Owner seeks commercial zoning for property in Lower Garden District

By Emily Carmichael, Uptown Messenger

The owner of a Lower Garden District property, long used for offices, is seeking to rezone the building from residential to commercial. RCI Hospitality Holdings, a Houston-based publicly traded adult entertainment company, purchased 1428 Terpsichore St. in April. It is seeking to rezone its newly acquired property as commercial, claiming it was mistakenly categorized as residential during the city’s zone restructuring in 2015. During a Neighborhood Participation Project meeting on the change Thursday, Sept.

Dinner Club series for authentic Creole cuisine begins with The Munch Factory

Eat NOLA Noir, hosts of Black Restaurant Week, and the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network will kick off “Dinner Club” showcasing “authentic creole cuisine” from around the city. The club series will visit a new restaurant each month, starting today (July 1) with The Munch Factory in the Lower Garden District. “Join us as we explore the culinary scene in New Orleans and try new dishes, meet new people, and get full,” Eat NOLA Noir wrote of the event series. The dinner will include a full serving of authentic Creole cuisine and unlimited buffet of menu items. The event takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at 1901 Sophie Wright Place. Dinner tickets and free club memberships are available at Eat NOLA Noir. Those interested can also sign up for information about upcoming Dinner Club meet-ups and food pop-ups.

City Council approves plan for wellness center in former church, with restrictions

The City Council last week approved the zoning change that will allow a wellness center in the former Norwegian Seamen’s Church, while promising to add some requirements for the business and property owners. The wellness center will be owned and operated by three sisters, Diana Fisher, Deborah Peters and Kendall Wininger, who are Lower Garden District residents. It will include offices for physicians and therapists, a health club with fitness classes in the former chapel and in the outdoor pool, and a carryout health-food restaurant. District B Councilman Jay Banks said the City Council is adding two provisos to the ordinance allowing the zoning change from residential to mixed-use, permitting a commercial venture. One will require the owners to submit a parking plan; the other will prohibit them from acquiring a permit to sell alcohol at the site.

Claret Wine & Cocktail Bar celebrates its opening in Lower Garden District

The Claret Wine & Cocktail Bar is officially opening with a ceremony today in the Framework building, although the Lower Garden District spot has been serving patrons since May. The owners Tujague’s and of Bar Frances collaborated to create the wine, cocktail and charcuterie bar, according to our friends at nola.eater.com. There is no kitchen, but a good selection of cheese and meat plates, as well as curated and creative libations, is available. After a 4 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, patrons are invited to celebrate with a complimentary glass of champagne, and to stick around for happy hour. Mark Latter of Tujaque’s and Patrick Schindler of Felicity Property Co.

Norwegian Seamen’s Church buildings granted landmark status

A 20th century complex of buildings in a district revered for its 19th century architecture was given official landmark status Wednesday by the Historic District Landmarks Commission. Designed and constructed in 1968, the Norwegian Seamen’s Church held its last service on Christmas Eve 2018. It then changed to secular hands, and its new owners are planning a wellness center. The church’s history in the Lower Garden District began in 1906, and it is its history and cultural significance — as well as the airy Scandinavian-style mid-century architecture — that the HDLC honored in granting the extra layer of protection from alteration or demolition. “The buildings that make up the campus more stylistically resemble Scandinavian architecture than that of the surrounding neighborhood,” HDLC staff stated in their report.