News

Jul 10, 2010 4:28 PM by Chris Welty

Jefferson Parish Trying to Change Fat City

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - They've tried for decades to rehabilitate,
re-imagine and remake Fat City, only to see the Metairie nightlife
district stubbornly cling to its rough and rowdy ways. So Jefferson
Parish officials now are trying a more persistent, relentless
approach.
An ambitious plan is in the works to impose new zoning standards
gradually eliminating strip clubs and converting Fat City into a
pleasant town center appealing to families, shoppers and diners. It
likely won't be implemented until late this year, but in the
meantime, Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, whose district
includes the neighborhood, is using the parish's alcohol permit
rules to target Fat City bars.
In March, the Parish Council revived a committee that hadn't met
since the 1980s to review the alcohol permit of the Forum Club, a
bar at 3208 N. Arnoult Road where sheriff's deputies made a series
of arrests for underage drinking. The council then denied the bar's
permit in April, at Lee-Sheng's urging.
That came five months after the Parish Council quietly adopted a
Lee-Sheng ordinance to let officials deny a bar's alcohol permit
based on the number of times police are called to the location,
regardless of the reason for the call or whether anyone is
arrested. Ten calls for service in a 30-day period at the same
address can trigger a revocation.
"I don't think a lot of people who live in the area know what
goes on there at night," Lee-Sheng said. "If you put one of these
bars in another neighborhood, there would be an outrage."
She gathered statistics from the Sheriff's Office showing that
ground zero for trouble in Fat City is the 3200 block of Edenborn
Avenue, with 452 calls for service from January 2008 through Sept.
15, 2009. In all the rest of Fat City, there were 675 calls for
service.
In the months since the new ordinance came online, the parish
has yet to shut down anyone on the basis of the number of police
calls for service. But already the idea that a business might be
targeted for police calls alone, even without arrests, is stirring
up angst among bar owners.
Wary of calling the police
Among them is Barbara "Boom Boom" Richardson, who owns Boom
Boom's Bar in the end of a strip mall at Edenborn and 18th Street.
At 73, she's a longtime owner of various drinking establishments in
different neighborhoods and sometimes jokes that drinking is her
profession, something she has practiced extensively. She sometimes
shows up at the bar in a rhinestone-studded pink sweatsuit.
Her current location, with its dark windows, big television set
in one corner and smattering of sports-themed decorations, is
mostly a hangout for regulars, not an obvious magnet for fights and
other disorder. But she worries the new law could eventually land
at her door.
"You can't help what people do in your parking lot," she said.
"I don't see how that should be held against the bar."
She said the law might discourage bar owners from calling the
police for problems on their own premises, in case that will be
held against them. Because most of her customers are regulars, she
prefers handling any disturbances independently anyway, so she can
keep her regulars out of legal trouble.
"It does make you hesitate to call the police, but I hesitate
anyway because I don't want a regular customer going to jail," she
said.
One block away at 18th and North Arnoult Road, Johnnie Schram,
owner of Crazy Johnnie's restaurant and bar, shared Richardson's
sentiments.
"It depends on what the call is for, too," Schram said. "Say
someone gets their purse snatched. Does that count against you?"
Lee-Sheng said the ordinance, while inspired by Fat City, gives
council members across the parish another tool to address problems
with bars in their districts. It does not automatically trigger a
permit revocation if a bar passes the 10-call mark. She predicted
that council members will take into account the types of calls, the
sources of the calls and whether they resulted in arrests.
"We would be very careful when it goes before a committee and
make sure people aren't making calls just to get them in trouble,"
Lee-Sheng said.
Trouble on the move
On a recent Friday night patrol around Fat City, Deputy Anthony
Buttone said the trouble spots tend to move as different bars gain
and wane in popularity and groups of customers switch venues.
"It all depends on what bar is hot this year," he said.
Lately some of the formerly raucous places have grown quieter,
he said, and some of the busiest places hire off-duty deputies to
provide security, which helps keep the scene under control. He said
it's difficult to measure whether the parish ordinance tying police
calls to alcohol permits has influenced behavior at bars. He said
it might be encouraging bars to hire more security details and
handle problems themselves.
Rolling through the intersection of 18th and Edenborn at about 1
a.m., Buttone noticed a commotion outside The Bar, a heavy metal
music club at 3224 Edenborn. A bar manager had been trying to eject
a problem-causing customer who refused the leave. The man stood
obstinately in the parking lot, saying little.
"We asked you to leave," the manager told him. "All you have
to do is leave."
Joined by two other deputies, Buttone checked the man's police
record and, finding nothing alarming, eventually told him he must
move on: "You've got to go somewhere, but you can't stay here. You
can go to any other bar."
The man finally stepped away, heading across the street.
Had he stayed, Buttone might have arrested him on a misdemeanor
charge of remaining after being forbidden on a private property.
Lee-Sheng said stepped-up enforcement by the Sheriff's Office
and the alcohol permit adjustments are part of a concerted effort
to keep pushing for improvements in Fat City. Another part of the
plan was the recent repaving and reworking of the drainage on 18th
Street.
In the fall, parish planners hope to unveil the biggest piece of
the campaign: a lengthy set of new zoning rules for Fat City.
The new code will propose land designations and aesthetic
standards specifically for Fat City, where 18th Street would serve
as a commercial core with more residential neighborhoods emanating
out from it.
The new codes will call for phasing out the district's remaining
strip clubs. They will impose the new standards as businesses
change hands and reopen under different formats.
The effort could also require new public investment,
particularly construction of a parking garage to an area with
narrow streets and limited off-street parking.
By favoring such incremental change over bold, sweeping plans
like many that have been proposed and shelved before, officials
hope eventually to maximize Fat City's location in one of the New
Orleans area's largest commercial hubs, turning it into a regional
attraction known more for its delights than its dysfunction.

»Comments

»Topics in this article

More News

Top Videos

1 2 3 4

Most Popular