Viewpoint: Who would want to do business in crime-ridden New Orleans?

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Danae Columbus

Iron beams and other building materials, worth $300,000, were stolen from the construction site at 3800 Howard, the former Times-Picayune property.

When I want to know what New Orleanians are thinking about the news of the day, I need not look any further than the app Nextdoor to get an unvarnished, uncensored view.   

Gina Melita posted about a carjacking at Sycamore near Carrollton. Laurel Street’s Avi Scott wrote about two teenage males who were pulling on door handles on her block. A clearly aggravated James Henderson in Algiers Riverview shared a video of his “lazy G-Man,” who picked up the trash bag on the curb but ignored the trash can. De Borah Wells in Milan posted a photo of Sir Paul, a Doberman she was mourning after his passing. Jenn C in Huntlee Village was warning neighbors about a hustler prying for information about her home security system.  

Then there’s Paulette Perrien from Maple Area who, along with several dozen others, remarked about the May 20 early-morning theft of $300,000 worth of iron beams and additional sheet metal from the former Times-Picayune site at 3800 Howard Ave., where the upscale Five O Fore driving range is under construction.

The beams were later found, damaged, about a mile away at Uptown Recycling on South Claiborne and Earhart. “I can’t imagine the anger and upset this development company leaders are experiencing,” said Marlyville’s Valerie Lowe. After the building’s foundation and support structure were “swiped away,” Lowe wondered who would want to invest in New Orleans. 

Larry Wolford from Central Carrollton bemoaned the fact that the theft demonstrated the risk of development in New Orleans. “This just shows how shamefully risky it is to do business here,” he said. Tracy Michele of Milan questioned how the theft of massive iron beams, weighing nearly a ton each and requiring the use of a forklift and a flatbed to steal, went unnoticed. Marlyville’s Lynnda Gerson drew the conclusion that New Orleans is “shooting itself in the foot” every day. “New Orleans is in a real crime crisis. Unfortunately no one want to invest in the city,” Gerson said.  

 “It’s like the wild west out here,” Wesley West, Jr. of nearby Trident Supply told WVUE-TV. “You would think a policeman would see them for the three days they were stealing from this job site.” Since New Orleans has so few police officers, perhaps no on-duty officers were in the area. It’s easy to say that the developer Alex Ziao should have had an in-person security presence rather than just cameras. Honestly, how many thieves would target heavy iron beams and sheet metal? 

Some say they suspect an inside job. The perpetrators knew about the security limitations, when workers would be on the site, and that a forklift was available for their use. Did a security camera capture the license plate on the get-away18-wheeler with the attached flatbed trailer? What information did Uptown Recycling require from the seller? What recycler would agree to purchase loads of building material that appeared brand new?  

New Orleans hasn’t been a really good place for adventurous entrepreneurs — except in the hospitality industry — in quite a while. Yet developer Ziao was willing to take a chance despite the city’s ongoing reputation as a crime capital.  Ziao did not have insurance for the stolen materials and is offering a $5,000 reward for solid leads. If we want other multi-million dollar businesses to invest in the city, New Orleans owes it to Ziao and his team to bring the culprits to justice and then to make Five O Fore a resounding success. Let’s send a signal that New Orleans is still open for business.

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at</em

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