Friday, June 17, 2011

St. Claude Neighbors Wary of Healing Center Plans; by Richard Webster, City Business

St. Claude Neighbors Wary of Healing Center Plans
Some fear developer Pres Kabacoff is running an
end-around to open a  neighborhood bar.

POSTED: 10:13 AM Friday, June 17, 2011
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer @ City Business

NEW ORLEANS -- When developer Pres Kabacoff announced plans
in 2008 to create  the Healing Center at 2372 St. Claude Ave.,
the community cautiously hailed it as an important step in
the revitalization of the long depressed corridor.

 Lord David, a local artist and musician, was one of the
first on board, writing  blogs in support of the project
that combines businesses, nonprofits and social services.
 Now, as it moves closer towards completion, David said he
was duped, that the Healing Center was "predicated on a lie."

 Its true mission is not healing the neighborhood;
it's opening a 4,200-square-foot nightclub called Café Istanbul,
David said.
 Standing on a porch off his second story apartment,
overlooking the Healing Center, David points down to a
55-car parking lot.
"Have you ever gone to see Kermit (Ruffins) at Vaughan's
on a Thursday? Imagine that but 20 times bigger, 60 cars
worth of drunk tourists pouring out of this parking lot
into a residential neighborhood at four in the morning,
every Friday  and Saturday night, forever. The only thing
they're healing is their own pocket books."

 David and others in the community aren't necessarily
opposed to someone opening a live music club in the area.
What bothers them is the feeling that Kabacoff and his
partners concealed the true nature of Café Istanbul to
sail through the  city permitting process.

It was initially billed as an intimate theater for musicals
and plays, that wouldn't stay open past 10 p.m., David said.
But a post on the Healing Center website described it as a
club where musicians would jam into the "late night hours."
An additional post, later removed, described roll-up doors
that would  allow expansion into the parking lot.

 The final straw for some came in January when a flier was
posted in the window of the Healing Center announcing that
the owners applied for a liquor license, something that
wasn't included in the project's original plans, said Paul May,
director of the city's Department of Safety and Permits.

 Café Istanbul will be owned by Chuck Perkins, a local poet,
and Suleyman Aydin,  who used to own Café Istanbul on
Frenchmen Street, now the Blue Nile, and Mona Lisa
restaurant in the French Quarter.
 Peter Horjus, who lives 100 feet from the center, said Perkins
and Aydin told him they intend to sell alcohol during
non-performance hours.

 Café Istanbul is in the process of changing zoning for the
property from a theater of performing arts to an amusement
place, which identifies it as a venue for adult entertainment.
Under both designations, the sale of alcohol is only allowed
as a concession during performances, said Nicole Webre,
legislative director for District C Councilwoman Kristin
Gisleson Palmer.
 Selling alcohol at any other time would qualify it as a cocktail
 Horjus fully supports the Healing Center and is not opposed
to a nightclub concept, or even a bar. But he said he wishes
the developers had been up front about their intentions.

  "A lot of what they've done makes them look fishy and if
they want to have the support it seems like they should be
bending over backwards to solve these  problems,"
Horjus said.
"It makes me worry when people say they're opening a
theater when in fact what it's going to be is a full time
music venue slash bar."

 Perkins recoils at the accusation that he is opening a
bar or a nightclub. A prospective third partner wanted to do
just that and was turned down, Perkins said. His goal is to
open a space that will accommodate all of the performing
arts including theater, dance, poetry and music. It will also
be used to show documentary films, hold fashion shows
and present guest lecturers.

 The second floor, which consists of a wrap around balcony,
will be reserved as  a gallery for the visual arts.

 Kabacoff insists that plans for the Healing Center, including
Café Istanbul, were presented to and approved by all affected
neighborhood associations. But as of three weeks ago, the
presidents of Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association
and the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association said
they had never heard of Café Istanbul.

 Perkins, who admits they could have done a better job
explaining their project and intentions, later made a full
presentation to the FMIA board and reached out to FSRIA
President Reggie Lawson, who said he will support the
project as long as it obtains the proper approval.

 Jason Patterson, owner of Snug Harbor and a member
of the FMIA board, called the board's response to Perkins'
presentation positive overall.

 "There are rowdy clubs that stay open late in the Marigny,
so it's no surprise  some neighbors may be concerned. But
I have complete faith in Chuck Perkins,"  Patterson said.
"If they do what they say they are going to do, it shouldn't
be any problem. It should be a great benefit to that area."

 John Hartsock, owner of the Hi Ho Lounge directly across
the street from the  Healing Center, said the new club will
cement St. Claude Avenue's growing reputation as a place
to see live music. In addition to the Hi Ho, the area already
includes the AllWays Lounge and Siberia.

But if Kabacoff sails through the permitting process and
secures a liquor license, despite being within a few hundred
feet of Colton School and a church, it will raise troubling
questions, Hartsock said.

 "It will make me wonder how much the buddy-buddy thing
has gone away from city business and politics," he said.    

City law prevents a bar opening within 300 feet of a church,
school or playground unless, after public hearings, the City
Planning Commission, City Council and mayor award a
conditional use permit.

 Kabacoff describes Café Istanbul as one of the most
important pieces of the Healing Center because it is the
only one likely to turn a profit.  

"None of those other things make money. What makes
money is the entertainment part of it, and in order to
operate it you need that music piece, what we're
known culturally around the world for," Kabacoff said.
"The intention is not to run a neighborhood bar.
The intention is to have cultural performances in all
aspects of the arts.
But let me just say, if you can make a dollar, you don't
want the place sitting  empty."


Please Note: When the 'Healing Center' project was
first declared, I was told there was opposition to it,
because it was alleged that Kabacoff & Glassman,
who run the place, would turn away from their proclaimed
mission of 'healing' & uniting the neighborhood in terms
of leasing retail space and doing "whatever it takes to
make money." Yet, today, they are doing exactly that.

Foolishly, I took Ms Glassman at her word that these
things would never happen, and that every measure
would be taken to include the immediate neighborhood
in changes to this program.
This, to date, has never happened either.

In fact, many others, living within sight of this building,
have never been contacted, have been told false and/or
misleading information, and all of us have been told that
we "should pay attention to the Healing Center Website
if we want to know what's going on in our neighborhood."

I am not alone, by any means, in finding it offensive
& ridiculous that these people would place themselves
in such a position of authority, while in truth, they are
unelected, uninvited and have little or no interest or clue
as to what the needs, wants & opinions of those around
them may be.
Further more, in my very first meeting with Pres Kabacoff,
after trying to intimidate me by walking up and stopping no
more than 4 or 6 inches from my face, he began to demand
to know who my landlord was, how long I'd lived there,
and how much rent I paid.
I openly asked him if he intended to run me off.
His reply was; "I certainly do have the might."

No clearer threat could have been made.

I am, however, totally opposed to liars, threats, big business
disguised as 'healing', and those with large amount of both
money and contacts, side-stepping the laws that the rest
of us must obey.

While the Blue Nile Bust and other attacks on the art
community cost many local artists their Mardi Gras
income under our current administration, and, in fact,
many local artists still struggle with the permit maze of City Hall,
ask yourself this;
Is it truly an end to corruption in our local government when
Pres Kabacoff, developer under the Nagin Administration,
can side step the entire process that has held these others
back, simply because of his connections & cash flow?

I, for one, call foul.
My answer would be a simple, 'Not on your life'.

Lord David
Skull Club in Exile
New Orleans


Lord David said...

For the record, when I initially spoke to Sallie Ann Glassman about this, she assured me that the 'performance center' would hold "regular Healing Center hours" which were described as closing at about 10 pm.

No matter how much he & Chuck Perkins may have "recoiled" from the idea in his talks with Rich Webster, in a telephone conversation with Suleyman Aydin, he personally told me that "Cafe Istanbul would be open until at least midnight every weeknight but one, and until 3 or 4am every weekend night." He also said it would be open with or without performances and/or live music.

Again, the public image put forth & the plans made behind locked doors by the 'Healing Center' make it difficult to believe or trust in much of what is said.

Whatever the outcome of the Cafe Istanbul that is/is not a Night Club, the idea that this entity is 'healing' or 'unifying' a neighborhood is beyond ludicrous. It is obviously a shell game, with stories changing in order to achieve whatever is necessary to generate the most possible cash.

The removal of affordable daycare, to be replaced with late night alcohol sales speaks volumes, in & of itself.

"Physician, heal thyself."
- Luke 4:23

Lord David said...

How does Kabacoff get around the laws that govern the rest of us, you may ask...

"Pres Kabacoff was appointed the Co-Chair of Mayor Landrieu’s transition committee on housing."

Anonymous said...

I had no idea about any of this. Thanks for shedding light on the situation.

Lord David said...

And then there's this:

Lord David said...

Well that was lovely.
Went to the FMIA meeting to hear the plans for Cafe Istanbul.
When I asked Chuck Perkins what his hours would be, he stood in front of a packed house with a microphone, screaming that I am an outlaw & have no rights.
I guess he doesn't know yet, about their hours, slander or being a little snitch.