Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sean Cummings & The Elysio Lofts

For anyone not up to date, Sean Cummings is the developer pushing to build a 74 foot tall condominium building at 501 Elysian Fields Avenue, in the Faubourg Marigny, which has a 50 foot height limit in it's zoning law.
There are other issues involved, like the sheer ugliness of it, but it may just be me that thinks a flat series of boxes with a patchwork like this is ugly; "Something approaching the feel of siding. This is overlaid with smooth metal panels that, together with the windows and balconies, form an asymmetrical, Tetris-like pattern." - Cummings own description.

To my eye, it looks more like something a Japanese game console would come in. And of course, there's the parking issue; 75 spaces for 74 apartments, including many that are 2, 3, or 4 bedrooms, and a downstairs "Pedestrian Retail Interface" ( read; Strip Mall), as Cummings called it at the FMIA meeting, which has no designated parking at all. Mr. Cummings was quite reassuring that the multi-level parking garages across the street at Decatur & Elysian Fields would pick up that slack, as well as off set the height violation.
Except they haven't been built yet. Nor is there any real plan in effect, and if there were, they wouldn't pop up over night. It would take several years of having no parking at all. But what does that matter to a forward thinking guy like Cummings?

 In fact, Sean thought very far ahead on this project. While CEO of the New Orleans Building Corporation, he spearheaded the design of the River Front 2005 plan, which is part of the New Orleans Master Plan, at least in theory.
As Chris Maldonado reports in the Best Of New Orleans blog: "His name, as well as that of his father, John Cummings, appear in acknowledgements appended to the report."

When going before the City Planning Commission, Cummings submitted his own quotes from this plan, and the CPC accepted it as gospel. "The proposed development is located within a node at the intersection of a major access corridor, Elysian Fields Avenue, and the riverfront," they wrote. "The adopted Riverfront Vision 2005 Plan sets forth certain design criteria for development sites within such nodes that may justify additional height."

Besides writing future proposed development law (it has NOT yet been passed) that would allow him special treatment under the 'New Law', Cummings made a practice of buying up properties, or having his father buy them, while still CEO of the NOBC.

 He was called up more than once by the State of Louisiana Ethics Board for doing so. While Cummings will claim loudly, and to anyone that will listen, that he was 'cleared of all that', it is hardly the truth. A portion of the report from that meeting is here:

The last paragraph is telling;
 "The board instructed the Staff to tell Cummings and his father that if they own any property that will be SUBJECT TO REZONING, or any other action as a result of River Vision 2005, or Reinventing the Crescent, or any other plan developed in whole or in part by the NOBC, or any other committee on which he or the NOBC is a member, his service as the Director of the NOBC may be prohibited. If such a matter does arise in the future, Mr Cummings should request an advisory opinion prior to taking such action or submitting such an application."

As to being 'cleared of all that", as Cummings has repeatedly said, the same report offers this:

 To my knowledge, no approval from the Louisiana State Board of Ethics was ever requested by Cummings, his father, or anyone else. It seems that by leaving his position as CEO of the New Orleans Building Corporation, Sean thinks his greed can now go on unabated.
But let's look at what he DID plan out, shall we?

This is a map of the River Front Development, and the properties placed are from a map provided by Cummings, himself. The Red Squares are properties owned by Cummings and/or his father. Please note that the Main Entrance, where the planned 1500 seat amphitheater is scheduled to be, is only 2 blocks from 501 Elysian Fields.
The second entrance (moving down river) is at the Rice Mill Lofts and the adjacent parking lot, owned by Cummings, and certainly ripe for further condo development, especially if the height limitation is removed.
The third entrance is the Piety Street Wharf, a given in the plan before Cummings came on board, and the only one that must be reached by a huge walkover bridge.
The fourth, and final entrance, pours out directly to Mazant & Bartholomew, where Cummings father owns not one or two, but four separate residential properties, all of which are multi-unit.

So, it seems rather obvious that Sean Cummings was forward thinking enough to hold on to his wits while he & C. Ray. Nagin, the only other guy watching the purse strings, spent about $20 million designing a recreation area that would funnel money to the properties he & his Dad were accumulating, all the while claiming they would see "no substantial economic interest" from doing so.
It should also be pointed out that Cummings insisted that he & his father would see no more "substantial economic interest" than anyone else in that area.
Of course, this is before those homes have a 75 foot wall of condos between them & the River.

But that's just the graft, criminal misuse of public office and whatever other nastiness Sean & C.Ray were up to with the missing $20 million (has anyone seen any receipts?) The real fun begins with Cummings Double Speak and Rich Boy Arrogance.

Cummings claims he has "supporters" in this plan, but a quick glance shows us why.
The owner of Standard Coffee supports it. He owns two consecutive blocks directly between 501 & NOCCA, on Decatur Street (look at the map) and is positively drooling for this 'variation' to set precedent so he can build 75 foot condo towers, too.

The Cake Bakery guy, at Chartres & Spain is certainly on board, as his cafe, although often too busy to serve the customers it now has, stands to gain huge profit, and perhaps expansion, by the building of this thing.

Sean has also spoken repeatedly about the various heights of the 'stages' of his project, claiming that they "average out to 48 feet".

While I find this to be the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard, apparently, some people buying it, so for them, here's a little exercise:

Get yourself pulled over for doing 100 mph on the freeway. Explain to the cop that, although your were doing 100 mph for the last two miles, you were only doing 50 mph for the four miles before that. Adding 50 + 50 + 100, and getting 200, then dividing that by three sections of 2 miles each, you get 66.6 mph.
How could one get a ticket when the speed limit is 70 mph, and your 'average speed' is only 66.6?

If this works for you, please come over and walk across this swimming pool.

The LAW (that's what zoning law is, kids) states a clear limit of 50 feet.
Cummings has been told by the State Ethics Board that asking for zoning changes shows a clear violation of his trust as a public employee.
The fact that he developed the park as a money funnel to properties owned by him and his father is probably criminal.
It's not like he, or his partner in this, C.Ray. Nagin, have great record so far, either.

But finally, we get to the soul of the project, itself.
Cummings has repeatedly called upon his New Yorker friends to come down and "reinvent" New Orleans, asking them to "Bring some real artists" to our hopeless little Faubourg. One of them, a divorcee from NYC, was quoted in the New York Times as saying she dreamed about the Rice Mills building, where she and the other tenants drank wine on the roof and psychoanalyzed each other.
She went on to say she dreamnt of "looking down on the homeless, below, building their little camps."

This must fit in tremendously with the 'Vision of Bernard Marigny" that Cummings claimed to be fulfilling  when I listened to him spilling tripe at the FMIA meeting. Hilariously, the last descendant of the Marigny family, who still lives there, watched in horror, and then laughter, as I asked Cummings, over & over again, about his "channeling Bernard Marigny." Sean, of course, was completely unaware that this man even existed, as he claimed his heritage out from under him, before his very eyes.
Finally leaving in a hissy fit, Poor Sean slammed down his pointer and stormed out, leaving his personal assistant to scramble for the projectors, et all.
A Man for The People, Sean Cummings.

As in other meetings with the FMIA, the height & parking, both in violation of local zoning law, were the hot button issues.

Cummings, however, keeps telling the press otherwise:

""The neighborhood association has exhibited a level of hostility towards us from the very beginning that is very difficult for me to pinpoint," Cummings says. "Exactly where it emanates from, I don't know. I'm not going to guess. I've asked, but they haven't been forthcoming. So I don't know.""

I suppose this is Rich Boy gaming, in that, when someone tells you the rules apply to you, too, you respond by saying "My teacher hates me & I don't know why."

Finally, there's Sean the Sensitive Artist.
 "Simply stated, Elisio Lofts is a lyrical tribute to the human tapestry, rich texture, of the-bell-curve patterns and highly eccentric character of Marigny."

If your flowers aren't doing well, shovel some of that on them. The "rich texture' and "bell curve patterns" I see are an extra floor of condos, some as small as 450 square feet (22x20) and renting for $1,000 a month. At only five per floor, that's an extra $60 grand a year.
Bell Curve my Aunt Mable's ass.

And then, finally, there's this, Sean's 'feelings' about it;
"We kind of feel that we're artists with buildings."

I'm an artist by trade, and it's how I make my living, if you can call it that.
I understand that every artist must struggle to find their vision & voice, and struggle harder to be heard.
But I don't know any, except vandals, who do it all over other peoples neighborhoods, in violation of their laws and ordinances, set up 40 years ago, by agreement and decree. 
I don't know any who scheme behind the scenes, stacking the deck against the populous, using millions of dollars of tax payer money to create a Funnel Of Greed, to build a Wall of Sycophants along the River, and sell out the rest of their city, because the only way they can get respect is to buy it.

And then, only when they cheat at the game, as well.

501 ELYSIAN FIELDS; Update from FMIA:
The City Council meeting on August 23 concerning 501 Elysian Fields was cancelled and rescheduled for September 6, 2012 in City Council Chambers.

According to an involved resident of the Marigny, a ral
ly scheduled for August 22 has been rescheduled for September 4. at 6:30 at Decatur and Elysian Fields on the neutral ground, rain or shine, wear your Size Matters Shirt, bring signs, make signs, bring your neighbors, friends and children.
It is important to show to City Council Members why their decision is important.


Beauregard said...

It was a few self-serving fucking greedheads that turned the French Quarter from a bohemian, eclectic, and semi-affordable neighborhood into what it is now....a neighborhood of barely used vacation homes and high-end condos. And Katrina was the last straw. When most of the city was still under water, FQ property owners were increasing the rents and "condoizing" properties to such an extent that many "regular people" were forced to leave.Many of those people found a home in the Marigny. And once again, the blood-sucking greedheads (Sean Cummings and co.) are at the door. We need to stop this cycle.Let the bastards know this is OUR neighborhood.So fuck off. With all due respect.

Leslie said...

Great post.

Thanks, from a neighbor.