WWL>Topics>>2-20pm 3:10pm Cynthia Lee-Sheng, Fat City

2-20pm 3:10pm Cynthia Lee-Sheng, Fat City

Feb 20, 2014|

Fat City Reimagined—does the vision match yours? The Severn corridor is on track to be reinvented. We talked tree-line streets, wider sidewalks, more greenery, bike lanes, pedestrian friendly pathways, and mini parks with benches. It’s been called the “number one priority area for redevelopment”…and Jefferson Parish officials hired a New York urban planner to help redevelop a growth strategy for Fat City. Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng shares her vision.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Well two hours on Obama care and and again so much to learn all the time we will have those two great guys back. Before the final deadline on March 31 over to do a little mental shift here and I hope you'll stay with this because. This is exciting mrs. a positive thing that's happening in our area and it's happening before our eyes. When I first moved to New Orleans in 1975. I lived in fact city for the first six months. I'd love to my apartment filled with other young working people. And the management let me have my sixty pound Basset -- ratio which not all rentals were allowing. I loved it there it was close to the -- some good restaurants there was a grocery store and dry cleaners right around the corner. I'm moved when my schedule changed and I was working the late news but I have good memories of my early days in this area. So it was sad seeing how fat city deteriorated over a period of time shocking actually. What happened. But more importantly. What is happening now to reverse the negative course to make it a safe fun place to live began. Well the answer is a lot is happening. And we're talking with Jefferson Parish councilwoman Cynthia -- -- about the laws that were enacted to change the vision. And the reality of an important part of Metairie and it's the kind of news you don't wanna hear. It is very exciting about what is happening and we have lots to talk about about some of the changes but I kinda like to go back in time because. In 1975 I love that area I really did I didn't know much about not New Orleans but I feel very safe there -- walk the dog at 10 o'clock at night. And I love my neighbors. We were all just sort of in this little world of starting our careers and and I love the walk ability -- it the fact that everything was there the dry cleaners or grocery store. And then what happened well. It you know it's interesting you say this because. You -- in fact city in its heyday. That's when I would do the research and I talked to people. It was hot it was the place to be young professionals of the apartment complexes were new. All that that the bars and nightclubs were new my aunt ran the -- allow back then and our member of people dressed up wore tuxedos. While long dresses so you weren't wind -- he was building and you -- part of that crap. That was between we we always wanna say between 1970 to 1975. And at sometime we know in 1979. The parish council at that time and government. Started rethinking facts because it was never really a plan that would starts to happen it just sort of sprung up. People you know just were very entrepreneurial but I don't you know the government in Jefferson Parish in particular didn't say. We want this to be an entertainment nightclub area to sort of patent. And we know that toward the end of the seventies. That's when they started. Not giving any more liquor permits and trying to pull back a little bit because of some of the a Faxon and you know I spoke to on a woman. And she explained that. Disco may may have killed fat city because Disco in the popular music at that time was recorded music to you could fill a place. With just playing recorded music and not bring it alive -- and that changed the dynamics. And at some point people say. 25 to forty year old crowd moved to go to a nighttime married somewhere else in new talents. And then you know your business owner of fat city what happens you start letting a younger clientele and to make your expenses you know your your clientele starts changing. And then we we knew an eighty's it was very much a teenage crowd a lot of drinking on the streets a lot of you know what you call cruising driving through the cars. And a lot of -- fights and you know that's when it really started. Really changing from the time that when you live there. Is it what is the end. -- the percentage of residents to businesses now. Well we always think of it is about 75%. Commercial 25% residential I know the real estate association. Estimates it's about 2500 units. So you know -- at one point six person per unit they told me it's about 4000 people that facts and yes in fact city's borders would be. Veterans. Veterans. Rights of -- veterans in west esplanade in division division so it's not a very large area it's just geographically very valuable for us it's part of Metairie it's part of the central business district in Metairie. It's adjacent to -- such shopping mall it's its extremely convenient. And those of us who really knew we could do something more in fact city for our community always said. You know we can neutralize the area it's in its natural advantages would start showing for. And I think that's which you see now EC -- city -- neighborhood in transition when you when you dried on the streets. You see something new that wasn't there before you -- may be vacant property that's being converted so that's the fun of policy now you actually see it happening. I'm right before our eyes and for those of us who worked on it from the beginning we always sought it was a 1012 year plan. And we would sort of not be an office -- not been nursing positions anymore watch it happen but that's the joy of it is that -- actually able to see it happened just three years after we passed the -- Let's talk about that that was in 2010 September of 2010 and what was that specifically. Wasn't a major change it was a major change and it was a change on. What we thought would be the committee uses now. Unless she were stripped clobber on the actual bar you were sort of grandfathered into it even if we change the zoning there it didn't affect your business. We -- national plan -- we had a real good committee of business people parish planners. Elected officials. The Jefferson Parish sheriff's office was huge partner forest. And we just really looked at the uses and came up with. Three distinct zoning districts called FC one for fat city one FC to an FC three. And we kind of adapted the uses of what would work necessary and you know FC one is eighteen streak is a pedestrian core and it looks like a pedestrian -- FC to an FC three have maybe more residential or maybe more of a commercial next. And we amortize the adult uses their work two or three strip clubs at the time. And we said you know in two years you have to go way. And that was very controversial. You know but it's always been my belief that. Who will invest next to a strip club it's very deters investment. And it was certainly deterring investment in that area. And then the most controversial piece that we put in was limiting dubbed the hours for the on the ballparks making them close at midnight and 1 o'clock. During the weekend and in it was certainly controversial and it certainly received a lot of push back but looking back now. If we didn't do that I don't think you see the changes that are going on that city and have any of the bar is gone out of business because of those changes in law many have. Many I would say one out of business even before -- -- our change went into effect what we saw happening was kind of a strange thing that community. Responded and they knew what we were trying to do it. And so when he was being talked about in the media is you know on the newspaper everybody was talking about it and so parents people would just start calling my office saying. You know at this location here I heard Mike my daughter said it you know girl her class spot on alcohol she's under agent they would start to sort of reporting things. Of course I would turn around reported to the sheriff's office they would go make a case. And this seems sort of sprouted that we didn't really. Try to do it but it was the community that responded. By a sort of alerting us to -- illegal activities going on in fact city. And we were able to -- you know with the help of the sheriff's office. They may -- cases in fat city and I think it sent the message that you know. We want to hear it can but should you have to do business in legal manner. You know that the crime statistics. For a lot of the bars at the time we had 23 alcohol beverage outlets seventeen on eighteenth street -- That is a lot for any neighborhood Hansen it's. I just looked at the crime stats recently. We are down 43%. On calls for service for the Jefferson Parish sheriff's office that is huge you know and that it just shows you. What happens when you changing neighborhood that 43% reduction in calls to the police. Didn't require millions of dollars of resources it's just that we made changes that neighborhood made changes some really bad operators went out of business. And we just had. Little like every day I think of it is small fights in fact city. For the better do we get a tree on this corner you know do we can we paint this wall and bring in a vibrant color we're working on that with facts frequencies. A wonderful group of people who have been committed from the very beginning. You know sort of on the street looking for ways reporting. Different code violations and thinking about new businesses and trying to entice new businesses many of those numbers were from -- -- city task force on. We just had a grand opening today for progress body health and wellness which is a multi million dollar complex so don't -- a great day. We're talking about the rebirth of fact sitting in Metairie. With councilwoman Cynthia lien -- And in it is good news in tennis it's had an interest in history as you said it was a hot place to be I'm lucky that I was there with a big Bassett -- mind. And then it sort of fell on hard times and now through a whole series of events. Actually is there and master plan. There is a plan it was a zoning plan but we always debated we never really said this is going to be a restaurant area this is gonna be a museum -- this is going to be -- medical complex. That would severely limit people's properties. So we didn't know what was gonna happen. You know we didn't know and I think the free marketplace just determines that. What we've seen is that many of the first new developments that have come forward have been restaurants. So it really is becoming you know around eighteenth street between north -- being -- You can get all kinds of food delicious food. From Japanese to a great state -- incredible seafood -- now operate or may burger within a block. So. It it is turned out to be you know of all -- probably the most concentrated area restaurants that we had. In addition in you know you have -- him too but I'm actually I think that's he has. Restaurants and you know we recently had done John Young on president John young and he made the comment. He sees. Fat city. In the near future. As the warehouse district of new warlords and this radio station is in the warehouse district and we write him Porter street I want to my car every night. And their young people out. And it is not just bars its restaurant it's the whole thing but it's life. I know I'm never afraid because there's just so much activity. And but its people living down here. So if you have the component of people who will want that life of urban living in fat city. And then you have the restaurants and things that will want to keep them there plus easy shopping center you've. Got married we do in you know I would like to look forward in fact city and look at all of our apartment complexes and condominiums and see what it turns into because really. It hasn't been determined yet with the future as but he it either could go young. And it -- -- certainly has an edgy vibe to it and you know that fund attract young entrepreneurial types. But I had a lot of active seniors tell me. You know -- those apartment complexes to be active senior senators and -- put me in line you know -- -- -- wanted to. And you think of it that way you think yeah that would be a great area for active senior living close to everything. So when we really don't have many of those kinds of places that you see in other communities active senior. Concentrated -- So -- would be curious to see and again that's the free marketplace in what's gonna -- it but if it goes in one direction or the other you you know it's interesting to see what would happen even down here in the warehouse district there are a retired people. Because they want to downsize exactly still wanna be worthy activity is so it could it will be let's that -- come back here in five years. And tenure he's actually let's let's -- But tell me about what happened today. Well today we did the groundbreaking for something that we're very excited about its call -- -- -- health and wellness. And this is a new concept. I'm told it's very popular on the West Coast. Two doctors. It came up with this idea and they wanna bring it to the greater New Orleans area doctor Scott in doctor I'm Lara. And it is under one roof on medical spot so you can get your position. Services. -- -- lasers you Botox your pillars and under the same roof you have a date like -- a date spot you can get a manicure and pedicure you can take regular class. You can do aerobics you can get your hair on. And they're also gonna do strength training. Medical weight loss. So it's all under one roof and again this concept that they were so excited because it's a new concept to our area and they chose to really -- -- fat city they thought that was the place they wanted to be. So was huge for us and again it's a multi million dollar project -- is helping with that. With some tax credits and tax abatements and it you know like I talked about earlier it's these little fights in the and every now and then you get these victories in this is a huge victory for us. That is a major victory because that's also going to be something that isn't a restaurant there isn't a bar isn't. Not residential it's another kind development. Exactly that's it and it's gonna be open 24 hours so you're -- have people there at night when it's not you know the bark crab anymore but it's people going to work out at night. So we're really excited about it and and hopefully by August they'll be open. Right now you have new restaurants yes Tony the burger I know accepts attempted to block him yes firehouse burgers firehouse it was that city francs. Which was delicious and now it's far has Parker's. Cell that's on being born in eighteenth and Drago is of course you know has held the line even during tough time and anchor for a strike goes as an anchor for us even when. You know gee you know ink was was wonderful with this and brought down Tim Tompkins from Times Square -- if you really look at the history of fat city. On a much bigger scale a lot of what we were trying to do is the success that they had in Times Square. And he was able to bring Tim Tompkins down. And right away Tim Tompkins says well I know distraught that I hear good things about drivers all the time where Straka missed. So it has been certainly an anchor for us on in fat city. And what did he say what what came out of his visit. Well you know we talked to him he toured the area he walked it with that he he said you need to do some programming they do a lot of programming when he called in in Times Square. And we've done that so far we've had some that's the food truck events and we brought food trucks and from New Orleans and and putted on eighteen and and north Arnold and -- they've been wonderful events. And again that's another victory for us because we had people out in the streets in -- city just did it in a festival like atmosphere so. He need to -- these little successes and you just keep working at all the time and and sometimes things happen for you. But he also said you know and I said you know we had it was a tough battle. They -- nine lawsuits that were filed against dissent in fat city and he said that's the best news I've heard all day it's wonderful that means you're making meaningful meaningful change. And he told me you know when we looked at. Re doing Times Square they were 47 lawsuits. So. You know he thought that was you making real change this time there were eleven studies done previously on fat city. And none of -- really got off the shelf for none of them really made any changes in the neighborhood and I think. It's time we really are absolutely you alarming as evidenced by. The mixed that's happening and some of the other changes -- making clearly and is their -- when you said ten to twelve years. And now you're already seeing things through four years in. Do you think in the next five years it could be -- major major change are we talking in the foreseeable. Future. I think you still have we still have people looking for properties I think you have more people look for properties when this opens this crest by health and wellness and when that Japanese restaurant opens in the other Japanese descent Kieran on the opening. Tommy to town of restoring fire -- -- you just start getting to where things just you know you creating something different. And you know the issue is a lot of people don't wanna -- A lot of people say this is the new hot spot and I don't wanna sell but. On the other hand you really do need people who are gonna go in there. Take a risk. A lot of time in on energy on financial resources. And change out -- use like what you see these guys doing it by health and wellness. That's what's gonna push us forward and fat city not someone's sitting on property and not someone buying property in doing very little with it but someone -- really gonna bring in new life new use and new look. And those of the pieces that are gonna change that -- or maybe some of the people who don't wanna sell you can encourage them to do new -- exactly exactly that you may be -- the hot spot but let's really. May get hot and now we -- giving them a neighborhood where they will get a return on their investment you know if we had a lot of crime in the area and we had a lot of negative things going on they they they can -- approve my property but in my gonna get the return on my investment. But now we're creating a neighborhood where you you will get the return on your investments. Really some very exciting things happening in fact that. And if you've been through it and then -- pressing them if you haven't got to drive by because. It again admittedly went to a rough patch and now is hopefully gonna turn the corner and become a very exciting part of a Jefferson Parish and certainly of Metairie. And what we're talking about really is. After the zoning change in 2010. It really allowed for. That the dynamics to change of what was there which cut crime almost in half. I mean all the good things you wanna hear exactly and you know we got a lot of push back from a lot of the bar owners. But I think you know with that reduction of of hours of operation. And bringing in new operators that really changed things a lot and I think it like I talked about before in neutralized the area and meet other people realize. Well this place is different now who so. And you and commit to have a cut in crime that that's huge 43%. It is huge it is absolutely huge and it only came about because. You know I spent a lot of time there at night. And I saw what was going on I went into a -- of the bars and one into the strip clubs. And at the time the planners we were showing great pictures of what -- serie a could become. And I knew after spending time at night there this unless we deal with this issue it's never gonna come with these pictures are it really isn't. And so. I asked the Jefferson Parish sheriff's office to help me. And run reports from me about what was going on and I saw just this uptick of activity at night after midnight till 4:5 o'clock in the morning. And arrested this is something that we really have to tackle before we can even think about. Turning this area around it something that needs to be addressed and -- You know many told us not to do it many said it's justified -- you don't -- touch that and but we did in and I think like I said it was the change that really -- this time and is why you see things going on in the neighborhood. Tell me what your thoughts and plans are for some burn. Well the regional planning commission. Recently did a feasibility study and the beauty of so -- is it connects. Fat city to lakeside shopping mall. But is it is now it's really just a street for cars it's not very pedestrian oriented it's not very pedestrian friendly you know you almost feel like. You know it's a little risky to cross the street there so we really need that connectivity. And it's and we think if we can improve that it will really be a shot an art to the whole area. So the regional planning commission worked in and and really looked at it into the feasibility study to. Do those things that you think or more aesthetically pleasing and more pedestrian friendly wider sidewalks. Putting landscaping. Covering in trying to. Make the electricity pulls a little bit covering them with crosses and and and landscaping. A bike path in the area. And then this new kind of concept of park clinics where you kind of have the -- build outs and you might even sell things there like a small marketplace area. Maybe an archway ticks kind of showed that you're entering -- it may be some. Road -- designs to show that this is to burn and and it and it connects this area. So hopefully we're going to be able to fight for the construction funding on that. And and bring that to fruition and I think that would just. Really make whole area very cohesive. When you -- funding would that be federal or state or. Little federal funding through the regional planning commission and yes in the regional planning commission obviously is doing the study in Jefferson Parish Regis. Are going up for some design work that like I said the study's been -- but not any real engineering work on it yet so on. You know it all speaks to not only -- ability quality of life but economic develop. At four -- no absolutely but when you talk about making something more attractive. As we were talking and commercial before our eyes there's a total transformation veterans boulevard. Cannot believe. What growing those trees and putting -- didn't. And you know veterans boulevard. Many many national retailers many national restaurants. When they want. To locate somewhere in this area they choose veterans boulevard and I really can directly tied it to the -- that we've done. And you know that was a great example of not one person pushing that but groups of civic and business people just working together because he no weird -- we fund that. Through a lease payment and so all many. On property -- along veterans need to use our right of way. The government's not allowed to let them use their right of way unless they pay -- and so it was really the government in -- CITIC Group working together to do this program. And it's you know the sculptures are there but they're not taxpayer funded it's it's sort of private money that's going into -- that's the beauty of at all. And really it's it's. It's starting to turn into a grand boulevard Beverly boulevard it really is no it absolutely is and yet you can still have parades there. Yes we can still -- -- we try to do what we can't protected and meant much of the fencing is up and all of our landscaping but we always say it's temporary and you know certainly carnivals. A huge tradition for -- we don't -- you know ever. Stymied that in any way so the week. Yeah we did try to protect -- landscaping in our investment and family -- this weekend daily car starts this weekend on Friday yes and that has grown oh my gosh yes and we we kick it off great with Amanda shot Cowboy Mouth on Friday and of course we have Excalibur operate at night. So. It and I have a friend in town I can't wait for her -- to see carnival because it's such a local thing and you just can't describe it to anyone who has experienced it before. Capsule and we'll go to family -- we have a caller David from New Orleans. -- -- Hello hello thank you a question about landscaping at that electorate to burial that's been one of the big issues -- -- kind of parent and -- actually public and it struck how you was one of the pioneers in the warehouse district 2030 years ago but went on both been there when I was only been. On the all blocked. -- I've been an urban -- at -- where the actively looking at a potentially different opponent that to the outlook which -- which they plates. But a couple of questions one in one area that seems like it has been parent has been trying to go to itself it's just don't like -- parking lot from the restaurant. We're not really a nice aesthetic appeal but even that building what that's kind of its plan on doing -- the result property. And then also did mention to you talked about the entry point for the current. -- the perimeter fat city if you look at like the other. On an all sides pretty good don't you go down out of this division or a street that is that now by -- great -- high school. That's kind of a little bit of -- looked as well what you plan to do economy -- the entire permit Arafat city. -- spruced up a little bit so that you don't feel like you going to a new developing area. Those -- great questions David thank you for the call. -- door well as a cup as it pertains to individual property in her -- you know there that's their decision to landscape or not landscape as they want -- probably with with the situation I -- as he is in such dire need of parking that you know any -- you do landscaping your Condit taking up a parking spot. On what we talk about planning and fat city in landscaping we we as a government talk about it in our public rights of way. We've planted some trees already and with the help of -- city friends. We're gonna -- it's more trees front of Jefferson the beautiful also committed to giving us some money and they do absolutely wonderful work as well. And so we're hoping to get eighty more trees planet's in. So you know that greenery it it's it's a difficult place it it's a lot concrete and it's a lot of while polls and it's hard to go in after the fact and say you know play an attorney in its. -- one of the more difficult projects that we pat says look at it fat city think planting trees easy but. When it's already all concrete eating you have utility poles and you worried about those kind of conflict it's not that easy to planetary. So you know we're gonna get more of that out. I spoke briefly about a mural project. You know you have besides of these buildings that are just blank canvasses for us. And you know the easiest thing -- to bringing cholera is just a pain it painted beautiful vibrant colors and get some artists involved and that's different is gonna work with us on on doing a mural project they've done in Baton Rouge -- downtown well as they do it. And that brings certainly a young -- in an Andy Young environments. So where we're looking at at doing that as well I hope that answers your question thank you so much listen mentoring. I guess I was wondering what have you done to improve. The drainage in that city because there comes a downpour and streak have a tendency to flood. Getting -- we don't -- about books and everything but have you done anything to do about the drainage. Yes that was one of the first issues we tackle because we knew that you know asking people to invest in -- city wind eighteenth street. Drains a lot there are certain areas in Metairie on a heavy. Rainstorm I will go drive just to check and that city an eighteenth street is one -- on. But it's part of the project probably -- 2010 we did about three and a half million dollars worth of drainage work. Under the street of eighteenth street in March enlarging the pipes that was phase one. And the phase two of it which we we still fight for funding and hopefully will be -- get that soon. Is to carry that water to the west esplanade can now so we have more storage capacity 118 street but the real fix is to get that water to that west esplanade canal and out to. So we are working on drainage and at that same project we did the sidewalks and we did the lights and we did the banners. It was important that we showed. Above ground you know you do the drainage in the water underneath the sidewalk but the public doesn't see the commitment that you make into the area. So that's when we decided let's do the light posts and let's do the banners and show. That we are committed to this area and we're committed to making changes by putting our financial resources there thank you lose so much for the called Sherry and mentoring. How there are out I think -- -- just wonderful but regarding beautification I wanted to point out. If the US store at eight people even born cult. It's a -- restaurant called upon. And their landscaping business all areas they did a great job probably wishes and small evergreen -- up. But what course to straighten some new trees that -- -- affected by the parish and then not ethically. And I am just hoping that you love could. Include more ethically -- that is the area can be -- your round if that's possible. Yeah we work with our barbarism we work with that some folks is figure out what kind of trees first of all that would survive in second that would provide cheating. And not again the conflicts that you have with some of the utilities but final -- site you know is beautiful the 'cause they that used to be a circle K. That was actually. Kind of gave us some problems. And that's that's what I'm talking about she take an area that gave us some problems had some issues. And just giving new life and you would do you look at that site now it's absolutely gorgeous and the food there is wonderful. And they really did a great job just just with that landscaping that they had there but we do look right across the street I believe we have Savannah Holly's right there. So but will work with the right people I mean I'm not the want to pick a tree you know -- I think that expertise is not something that I have. But -- it's wonderful that you commented on a ten and you're seeing the difference thank you very much for your call and you were talking about. So such a Smart thing to bring in the Times Square alliance yet because of the similarity. Yes exactly when you look at what we were trying to do in fact city and you look at the history of Times Square and people often said. It's it's kind of like what they did in Times Square -- I kind of did some research on it it was exactly the same thing of course on a smaller scale. But you know Times Square was. A wonderful theater district in the 1920s and 1950s booming. And then somewhere in the late fifties it's sort of the sex industry moved and and I remember you know my husband's from that area and in in the seventies he said -- good times currently issue going for trouble I mean you know and I kind of remember driving through there as a teenager as well and still really bad kind of seedy area and you know in 1984 they came up with this hundreds of million dollar project. Lot of opposition. The whole city was you know Regis had different groups not supporting it. And it felt for -- But what they did in what government did is what government does best it's sort of tries to gear investment there and it's sort of tries to tackle the sex industry. It's starts going after the small crimes the prostitution and not the the violence in the arrest. And and now Times Square has the highest -- values in the country. So that's exactly what we're seeing of course on a small scale with fat city in and hopefully we're gonna follow suit and it's gonna be very valuable property force once again I cannot thank you enough for coming up pretty chalked this up I am uplifted and I liked that feeling. Thank you again very very much and will continue to follow this pleased you thank you thank you so much everyone stay with the sun. The sports guys are coming but before that let's go back to the newsroom.