Confidence: Stakeholders need reassurance from mayor

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 29, 2009

The paperwork said hearings at City Hall last week were about a balcony and an exterior staircase. What they were really about was gauging the ability and intent of Mayor Paul Winfield to guide the orderly development of downtown, sustaining a path that began with almost equal skepticism of the previous mayor eight years ago.

Initially, the applicants sought zoning permission for a nightclub on the second level of Burger Village, a well-established business at 1220 Washington St. The word “nightclub” evoked memories of at least two venues — Club 1515 and the New New Orleans Cafe north and south of Burger Village — that developed reputations related to cocaine, mayhem and murder. Indeed, the Club 1515 and New New Orleans Cafe experiences triggered the “no nightclubs” change to the zoning ordinance for the area, defining a nightclub as any business deriving almost all its income from intoxicants.

Learning of the ban, the application for the business to be operated by Charles Ross was amended to restaurant and lounge. Also filed was a petition to break rules written to maintain architectural styles of the area that banned balconies or outside staircases where they had not previously existed. Hence, the nominal reason for the hearings.

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The downtown redevelopment that has taken place in recent years has been geared toward a mixed-use area, combining shopping and dining with residential properties. The idea has been to let people have fun and relaxation, but not of the Bourbon Street variety. Ross should understand that is what stakeholders fear — not his race, but a loss of their property value. The stakeholders should understand that Ross has a right to engage in any business allowed in the area and, further, that he should not be singled out for exclusions from amenities and breaks given to others.

Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Sid Beauman are known quantities at City Hall. The new guy is the mayor.

The hearings were a test of his mettle. In coming days, Winfield has an opportunity to speak clearly and assure existing investors their interests will be protected during his administration by the laws duly enacted to accomplish that purpose. At the same time, he needs to keep making welcome all who will provide jobs and increase commerce — legally — as the redevelopment continues.

Fear and confusion cannot stand in the face of clear communication. People need to know where Winfield stands.