The St. Roch Market was built in 1875 as part of the City of New Orleans’ extensive system of public, open-air markets. By the 1930s, the building was crumbling, and the city slated it for demolition. However, after widespread public outcry and intensive lobbying on the part of Faubourg St. Roch residents, the building was remodeled under the WPA. It was during this period that the market was retrofitted with then-modern accommodations, including refrigeration and plumbing. In the period immediately following WWII, the public market system was disbanded, with only the French Market and the St. Roch Market (again, because of resident support) remaining. It was also during this period that the market was fully enclosed, and began to operate under private management. In the years leading up to Katrina, the market was operated by a family of Chinese immigrants, who converted a portion of the market into a restaurant-style eatery.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the market, causing structural damage and leaving it shuttered. As city property, the onus has been on the Office of Recovery Management to rehabilitate the market. ORM, in turn, has contracted the project management to MWH, a planning firm that has recently been the focus of some controversy regarding the misuse of the city’s revolver fund (read more hereand here). In early 2009, both ORM and MWH, along with the architect in charge of the project, Lee Ledbetter and Associates, held a series of public hearings to discuss their plans for the markets with area residents. The plans, however, are quite gaunt. They call for the redevelop of the site as a “white box,” essentially an empty space, the use of which will be determined by an unidentified third party tenant. The revelation of this led to some controversy at one 2009 public hearing, with a few St. Roch residents expressing concern that its use would be dictated by more affluent residents of the Bywater and Marigny. At one point, a resident even interrupted the MWH representative, saying “if your from St. Roch, raise your hand,” at which only a third of those in attendance did.
More pressing, perhaps, than the projects eventual use, is the possibility that the city does not yet have all the funding needed to complete the project. According to an MWH memo, the current project budget is $3,000,000, while the current available funding is only $651,972, leaving a funding gap of $2,348,028. The document goes on to list $1,000,000 worth of CDBG funding and over a million more in potential FEMA reimbursements that it hopes to use as gap funding. Yet, it lists the likelihood of reimbursement for the bulk of the FEMA funding as only 70%. Regardless, the project has been approved for its full budget, and the same document gives 5/27/2011 as the date of completion, with 5/27/2010, a year earlies, as the start date for construction. However, according to one active neighborhood member, ORM recently moved the date back to December, to which he added, “[I’m] not holding my breath.”