The New Orleans City Council earlier this month approved an appeal by a Bourbon Street bar to install a gallery along the second floor, overturning the decision by the Vieux Carre Commission denying the application.
At their Nov. 17 meeting, City Council members voted 5-1 to approve the motion granting the appeal to Fat Catz Music Club, allowing the business to proceed with constructing a gallery on the second floor of the building located at 440 Bourbon Street.
Lesli D. Harris, District B councilmember, voted against the motion, which was put forth by District C Councilmember Freddie King, who represents the French Quarter.
“This building’s located in the Vieux Carre entertainment district, the French Quarter’s most intensive zoning district, which is more permissive around everything from lighting to signage,” King said. “The VCC guidelines are just that — guidelines, not requirements.”
Nathan Chapman, president of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, which advocates for preserving French Quarter buildings, said he was shocked that the City Council voted to allow the “inappropriate alteration of the building.
“The public’s concerns went beyond the fact that the City Council voted to obscure and obliterate a rare architectural feature – its entresol floor – on the building,” Chapman said. “There was also strong objection that the applicant never submitted architectural plans to the VCC, like citizens and other businesses are required to do. Instead, they turned in an architectural sketch. That alone should have merited a denial to the proposal.”
Advocates who spoke during public comment at the meeting said that the ceiling on the second floor is too low to install a gallery and that the addition would be “anachronistic,” meaning it would not have been a feature of the building during the time it was built.
A VCC spokesman added that the proposed gallery failed all four criteria of the commission’s guidelines that would allow the addition.
The building’s second level feature is an entresol, or an intermediate mezzanine structure designed to extend the height of the first floor and which gives the building a unique architectural look that’s not typically found outside the French Quarter, advocates say.
VCPORA’s Erin Holmes said only 18 such features exist within the French Quarter, adding that no plans were submitted specifying how people could access the gallery.
Holmes noted that the property owners are also appealing a deferral by the VCC to add two stories to a portion of the building that’s rated brown, a category that holds the least historical value. The facade of the building is rated green, which indicates local historical significance, according to VCC guidelines.
James Rolf, identified as a VCPORA member and preservation consultant, said the addition is “mocking our own culture.”
“New Orleans is often the example throughout the country of how to properly restore a historic building,” Rolf said at the meeting. “We’re creating more of a film set than the authentic culture that we are.”
A woman speaking on behalf of the property told councilmembers that the gallery would improve the property, saying it’s the “least attractive” building on Bourbon Street.
In addition, architect Ralph Long said the gallery would would serve as a buffer to protect pedestrians from sun and rain, compliment the intersection and improve the appearance of the building.
King agreed, adding that every adjacent building also features a second floor gallery, which would create a positive economic impact for Bourbon Street — which he noted is an important source of tax revenue for the city.