Posts Tagged ‘The New Orleans Blight Blog’

The Circle Food Store

June 29, 2010

Address: 1522 St. Bernard Ave.
Owner: Dwayne Boudreaux (Circle Food Store, Inc.)
OPBOA Assessed Property Value: $136,470
Unoccupied Since: 2005
Damage Assessment: Unknown
Status: Planning Stages of Redevelopment

The building that now houses the Circle Food Store was first built some time between 1841 and 1860. At the time, it was called the St. Bernard Market, and was part of New Orleans’ extensive network of public markets (there were 36 in total). As the market system declined during the 1930s and 40s, the market, like so many others, was sold to private owners.

Map of Public Market SystemThe earliest record for the property in the city’s Real Estate Records Office is an act of sale from 1941. The sale was to Jacob Steinman, who bought half the property, and his five siblings, who each bought the remaining five tenths of the property. In addition to the Market, the Steinman’s also bought a number of adjacent properties, all of which are not either storage or parking. The property was again sold in 1949 to George Wainer, who, along with his wife, son and sister, sold it in 1954 to the 3rd District Homestead Association, a now defunct or renamed local bank. That same day, it was sold to Herbert J Gabriel and Mike Gabriel. Considering the bank sold it at a $20,000 loss, it is possible they acquired it through foreclosure. In 1964, the building was sold by the Gabriels to Circle Food Realty, Inc., in exchange for the controlling share of stock in the company. At some point over this period, the old St. Bernard Market was dubbed the Circle Food Store.

St Bernard Market Lettering Still ThereIn 1995, Herbert Gabriel stepped down as the owner of Circle Food Inc., giving the Circle Food Store to the head manager and current owner, Dwayne Boudreaux. As Mr. Boudreaux testified to the New Orleans City Council in February of 2010 (which I encourage you to watch, here), in its heyday, the Circle Food Store was a crucial component of life in the 7th Ward. According to Mr. Boudreaux and in true New Orleans fashion, it boasted the largest Easter display in the city, moved the highest volume of bell peppers or any store, and had a doctor, a dentist and even a chiropractor.

In 2005, however, the failure of the federal levee system brought on by Hurricane Katrina forced the Circle Food Store to close its doors. Since then, Mr. Boudreaux and a coalition of 7th Ward residence, have been working doggedly to reopen the store. Since Mr. Boudreaux has been able to gut the building and remove the storm damaged equipment, preparing the building for renovation. Twice, he has teamed up with The Campaign to Reopen Circle Food, an awareness campaign run out of Neighborhood Housing Service’s 7th Ward neighborhood center, to hold events to gauge public support. The first a parking lot sale in 2007, was a tripartite effort with Ed Blakely and was, according to Mr. Boudreaux, a huge success. The second, a parking lot sale and broader, block party style event, was held in 2009, and drew an even larger crowd. To follow up on these successes, the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center has begun running a more robust awareness campaign, including selling Circle Food merchandise, a blog, and numerous other pending plans.

Ads for past services Despite the strong support, a much harder issue has been that of financing, especially public financing. As early as 2007, Mr. Boudreaux reports being contacted by Ed Blakely at the Office of Recovery Management about the possibility of a grant to reopen the store, to the tune of $3-4 Million. According to Mr. Boudreaux, this was the first time he had considered public funding, so he decided to wait and see what would happen before pursuing private financing. “I wanted to see just to what extent the city was able to help me,” he told the blight blog, “but I waited and waited, dealing with different people, different aspects of the city, and it never materialized.” Mr. Boudreaux reports having been told that it would take up to 6 to 8 months when he first met with Blakely, but that when Blakely was replaced, he had to start over. “The next guy came in, and he said 6 to 8 months, then the guy after that said the same thing,” he says.

Just before Mr. Boudreax testified before the City Council, he got good news. Though a far cry from Blakely’s $4 Million, through an economic development grant, the city had awarded him about $100,000 to reopen the store. Though he hasn’t yet drawn on the money, he has begun working with Tulane’s School of Architecture and School of Business on blueprints and a business plan. Yet, Mr. Boudreaux admits that he is still not sure how he will raise the remaining funds. This was the purpose of his visit to City Hall, to ask the Council for guidance in finding funding. And, while the Council responded enthusiastically to his testimony, the only support they were able to offer was verbal.



City Hall Annex

April 23, 2010

Front of building from Canal StAddress: 2400 Canal

Previous Owner: Owned by Robert Evans and Cesar Burgos from 2006 to March 2010

Current Owner: The City of New Orleans

Assessed Property Value: $1,893,700

Unoccupied Since: 2000

Damage Assessment: Unavailable

Status: Undergoing plans for renovation

The five story, utilitarian-in-appearance, City Hall Annex is located in Mid City and is situated directly on Canal St. between S. Rocheblave St. and S. Tonti St.  The building was originally used to house Pan-American Life Insurance, which is now located at 601 Poydras St.  The building has remained vacant and unoccupied for over a decade.

Robert Evans and Cesar Burgos initially pursued acquisition of the property in March 2005.  The events of Hurricane Katrina disrupted their purchasing plans; however in 2006 Evans and Burgos finalized the purchase for $1.95 million.  The initial plans for redevelopment incorporated recreational and commercial facilities on the first two floors, and apartments on the top three floors.

In April 2007, the Regional Planning Commission proposed the area between Galvez St. and Rocheblave St. for the location of the VA Hospital.  The City Hall Annex is located within this footprint, but was considered and amenity during the initial stages of the hospitals proposal.  In late 2007 the New Orleans City Council issued a moratorium on all properties located within the hospital site but excluded the annex from being included in the freeze.

In March 2010 Louisiana State University followed a quick-take procedure and deposited $3.7 million in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.  This allowed for the instant transfer of the properties title to the State of Louisiana through its expropriation law therefore seizing the property from Evans and Burgos.

According to Evans and Burgos, the expropriation price of $3.7 million does not cover the funds they have invested into the property since their acquisition, as well as the property value.  The two owners invested at least $2 million since they acquired the property that not only covered monthly insurance and interest payments, but the costs to actively pursue the building be declared a historic therefore allowing the owners to get tax credits.

In December 2010 after the property was seized, the State of Louisiana offered $4.8 million to Evans and Burgos to purchase the property through a voluntary sale, but the offer was rejected.

As development plans for the VA Hospital persist, Evans and Burgos are actively fighting the seizure of their property.  They are insisting they are compensated for both they money they invested and total value of the property.

According to the City of New Orleans Press Release on March 15th 2010, the original Pan American building will renovated and used for housing education, training, recruitment, and administrative services for the VA Hospital. The renovation is scheduled for completion in 2013.


The Dixie Brewery

April 13, 2010

From Tulane Ave

Address: 2401 Tulane Ave. New Orleans, LA 70117

Current Owners: Joe Bruno and Kendra Bruno

Unoccupied Since: August 2005

Property Value: $1,387,100

Damage Assessment: Unavailable

Status: Unknown

The Dixie Brewery building was built in 1907 for $85,000 by Valentine Merz.  The six story low rise’s purpose was to brew, store, and distribute what is present day Dixie Beer.   During prohibition, the brewery manufactured and distributed non-alcoholic beer until 1933.  When prohibition ended, Dixie Beer eventually reached the national market and gained an iconic status for the city of New Orleans.

The current owners purchased the building in 1986 and continued to produce and market the product until August 2005, when the events of Hurricane Katrina ravaged the property.

The brewing equipment was devastated beyond repair from flooding, and the property suffered significant damage.

Much of the delay in renovations can be attributed to the building’s location within the VA Hospital footprint.  With the potential threat of being demolished to make way for the hospital’s expansive campus, plans for rebuilding have been put on hold.  However, the Historic District Landmarks Committee of New Orleans has nominated the building as a local landmark, which can offer protective reasoning against its demolition.

Currently, Dixie Beer is being brewed and distributed in Monroe, WI and supplies a smaller national market from its pre-Katrina operations.


The Louisiana Family Council and L. C. Frank & Son Service Station

April 7, 2010

Address: 4722 Earhart Blvd and 1429 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy

Owner: Life-Line Community Development/Jill Dapremont

Assessed Property Value: $273,200

Unoccupied since: August 2005 (4722 Earhart Blvd) unknown (1429 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy)

Damage Assessment: Unavailable

Status: Approved for Demolition

1429 Jefferson Davis Pkwy

1429 Jefferson Davis Pkwy

While two distinct addresses, the buildings located at 4722 Earhart Blvd and 1429 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy sit on the same municipal lot, have the same owner and are assessed as a single property.  The property on 4722 Earhart (the absent façade of which is pictured above) appears to have had a simple, utilitarian design, while the property on Jefferson Davis, a service station dating from the 1950s, has a distinct, “Streamline Moderne” style.

4722 Earhart Blvd.

The lot was first developed in 1925, when a construction company bought land on either side of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad tracks (run just 27 years prior).  The company owned the property until 1954, when the City of New Orleans acquired it in order to relocate the rail line and construct Earhart Blvd.  That same year, a man named Martin L. Frank was given the property in exchange for another lot in Earhart’s path. With the property, he was given the right to construct a service station and, in 1959, he did, signing a 99-year lease with Sidney Stanfield, the station’s operator.

4722 Earhart Blvd

4722 Earhart Blvd

In 2001, Martin’s grandson, Lawrence M. Frank, lost the property to American General Financial Services to settle a $131,000 debt.  That same year, American General filed the paperwork to annul Mr. Stanfield’s 99-year lease.  Less than a year later, the building was sold for $200,000 to the Life-Line Community Development Corporation.  Later that year, they opened the Louisiana Family Council on the first floor, to provide family counseling and wellness classes to the neighborhood.

However, according to Jill Dapremont, Life-Line’s chairperson just before Katrina, the CDC was turned down by the city for a grant to renovate the rest of the building.  Less than a year later, Katrina hit, and Life-Line did not have the funding to repair.  Ms. Dapremont now lives in Memphis, where she was displaced after the storm.  She told the blight blog that were still members of the organization in New Orleans, though she had no contact information.  An Internet search for the organization produced only a photo from when the building’s façade was ripped off by wind during Gustav.

On July 14, 2009, the two properties were included in one of the city’s mass code enforcement hearings.  According to the city’s website.  None of the owners showed up at the hearing, and the city designated the building a public nuisance. On March 1, 2010, the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee approved the property for demolition.

1429 Jefferson Davis Pkwy

1429 Jefferson Davis Pkwy