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Tensions ease between Magnolia Marketplace and First Mount Calvary Baptist Church

13th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Councilmember credited with facilitating agreement

Ground breaking for Magnolia Marketplace—a two-story mall on 6.5 acres bounded by Clara Street, Washington Avenue, Toledano Street and an area just south of Claiborne Avenue—is slated for the third quarter of this year and a bit later than planned. Meanwhile, friction between the mall and nearby First Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, built in 1916, has eased. Life-long, First Calvary member Jocquelyn Marshall, an associate project manager at non-profit Urban Strategies and a former Harmony Oaks Neighborhood Association president, said her church seems satisfied with an agreement ironed out early this year with the help of New Orleans Councilmember LaToya Cantrell.

Marshall said she’s now waiting for the jobs, retail activity and makeover that the mall—which will be north of the 460-unit, mixed-income Harmony Oaks residences—will bring to the area. Harmony Oaks, completed in 2011, was previously C.J. Peete housing. Before that, it was the site of the Magnolia Projects for decades.

Last year, worries were that First Calvary, an African American church located on what’s now a tiny spur of Sixth St., would be hemmed in between Magnolia Marketplace on the riverside and busy Claiborne Ave on the lakeside, limiting Sunday morning parking.

Tara Hernandez, president of JCH Development on Poydras St., said a good neighbor agreement negotiated with Magnolia Marketplace, LLC in Marketplace, LLC in January addresses parking. “The church has no off-street parking now and they don’t have access to their rear yard,”she said. “We’re giving them something they don’t have—access to the rear yard for cars and parking spaces at the Marketplace.”

Magnolia Marketplace, LLC is a joint venture between JCH Development and Stirling Properties in New Orleans, along with Central City Partners—a subsidiary of the developer of the C.J. Peete site. LaToya Cantrell’s office last week said the accord gives the church 30 undesignated parking spaces on the first level of the mall’s planned, parking garage, to be used any time the church’s on-site parking is full. In addition, Magnolia Marketplace has agreed to build its complex with the fewest-possible disruptions to the neighborhood. That accord is effective as long as the church is under current ownership.

Last week, Cantrell said church members once parked on nearby streets but the road configuration has changed. Marshall said members often park on nearby grass. Cantrell said “parking needs increase when large numbers of people turn out for a holiday service, a wedding or a funeral. It’s something you can’t necessarily plan on.” The church is within her district.

Cantrell said “First Mount Calvary, a faith-based social and recreation center, has been a pillar of the community for Central City residents for generations.” She said her role in negotiating with developers early this year was to make sure that the church’s pastor, the Rev. Ulysses Landry Sr., and his constituents were represented.

Church member Jocquelyn Mar­shall said tensions with developers grew last year. One concern was that the spur of Sixth St. off Claiborne might be closed, denying access to the church by car. The spur will remain open, however. Another worry was over a request that the church not alter its exterior without first consulting the marketplace. “Naturally, the church had a problem with that,” she said. The request was rescinded.

As Marshall understands it, the mall’s developers agreed to help with repairs to the exterior of the stucco church, along with some landscaping. When asked about that last week, Cantrell also thought the developers decided to assist with the church’s exterior. But Hernandez at JCH Development said the good neighbor accord covers parking only.

Marshall has talked with her pastor, Reverend Landry, since January, and she said “he seems satisfied with the agreement.“ Last week, however, Landry said he had no comment about the church and Magnolia Marketplace.

Marshall estimated that First Mount Calvary has anywhere between 100 and 160 members, not counting the choir and officers. She’s seen as many as 200 people in the church on an Easter Sunday and during funerals. “Sometimes people are standing behind the pews in the back, “ she said. “They’ll drive in from other neighborhoods.”

Gloria Williams, current president of the Harmony Oaks Neighborhood Association, be­longs to another church in the area. Her thoughts about the marketplace are mostly positive. She said “retail businesses are truly needed here. We have senior citizens without cars, and a number of us can’t ride public transportation.” But Williams wants to make sure that the mall employs people from the neighborhood. “I plan to talk with Tara Hernandez about jobs soon,” she said. “That includes jobs for adults and part-time positions for our boys and girls, who need to keep busy in the summer.”

Hernandez said Magnolia’s developers will hold a jobs open house for Orleans Parish residents but they haven’t decided on a date or location yet. “We’ll work with Urban Strategies and we’ll contact Harmony Oaks with job information, probably in the third quarter or later this year,” she said. Hernandez said it’s too early to estimate how many construction and permanent jobs the complex will create.

Urban Strategies Inc., a non-profit based in St. Louis, works with Harmony Oaks on social services and academic opportunities.

So how did Magnolia Marketplace acquire its site? Developers purchased the land—which is a portion of the C.J. Peete complex left over after Harmony Oaks was built—from the Housing Authority of New Orleans for $900, March of last year.

When asked about businesses in the complex, a Stirling Properties executive said last week that Tara Hernandez of JCH was the only person authorized to comment publicly on Magnolia Marketplace. But a Stirling website, updated last week, showed T.J. Maxx, Ross Dress For Less, PetSmart, Michael’s arts and crafts, Shoe Carnival, ULTA Beauty and Raising Cane’s as having signed leases in the complex. Several spaces for small shops on the ground floor and a “junior anchor business” were still available last week.

According to Stirling Properties, Claiborne Ave. is the most heavily traveled artery connecting the city’s uptown area with downtown and the central business district. Average daily traffic exceeds 70,000 cars daily.

Last week Marshall said she doesn’t mind development as long as it’s for the better. She said “a rundown neighborhood attracts crime. If you live in a community that looks nice, residents take care of it and that makes things safer.”

Before it was branded as C.J. Peete, the neighborhood from 1941 to 2008 was the Magnolia Projects—giving the new mall its name. Known for a high murder rate, the Magnolia Projects also produced many musicians, particularly rap and bounce artists who have achieved national success.

As for the church, Marshall said First Mount Calvary is a treasured part of her own history. She grew up in the former public-housing complex but said she likes Harmony Oaks. Since Harmony Oaks is mixed-income, she lives among former C.J. Peete residents, along with new arrivals. “I’m making some new friends here,” she said. “But it means a lot to me to go to my childhood church and be among the congregation I grew up with.” And that’s especially true because her current work at Urban Strategies is mainly in San Antonio and Tampa.

This article originally published in the May 13, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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