Over the last few months, we who live in the Marigny/Bywater/St. Roch area have been hearing from small business owners about petty harassment by the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association.
The Mardi Gras Zone liquor license problem was one of the first things we heard about upon moving into this neighborhood three years ago. We heard that prior to our moving here, there had been a petition signed page after page by residents in favor of their getting a liquor license and that four locals had been against it. The license wasn't, and still hasn't been granted. We thought it was odd that four people could hold up something that the rest of the neighborhood was in favor of, but truthfully, we just figured maybe there was something else wrong with their application. We got used to going to Schiro's, which we love, but is annoyingly closed by 9PM and is not open on Sunday, which has led to several frustratingly dry Saints games because we weren't smart enough to remember that Schiro's would be closed. We'd either head off to a local bar or call the ever loyal Verti Marte delivery guys to hump a couple six packs to the house. We thought it ridiculous but lived with it.
Recently Mardi Gras Zone had another problem with the neighborhood association when they debuted their wood burning pizza oven. Watching this oven get built was like watching the pyramids go up: massive, stout, stone. There had been some work shut downs, permit issues that seemed to come out of nowhere. Once fixed, building resumed. Then there it was and pizza was coming out of it, and people were loving it, and then, boom. Wood burning stove, neighborhood menace, it must be shut down. City Business did an article on it about two months ago (sorry, the article is buried under other documents so I can't cite the date) because it had become such a big deal.
Over the last few months, though, we've been hearing more bizarre stories from local businesses. Snippets, really, but interesting and disturbing ones: Lost Love Lounge being harassed over bike racks and noise (that location, by the way, has been a Dance Hall/Live Music venue since 1939); Desperado Pizza being harassed over having an acoustic music set--some of the employees worried about losing their jobs; Mimi's, a very popular local bar and neighborhood institution, being harassed over (I've heard all of these at one time or other--like I said, snippets) noise, bikes, people standing outside, and parking. Those are just the few things I can remember as the Mimi's list seems to go on and on. We then heard that the Tire Shop on St. Claude was also being harassed. I keep meaning to go up there and ask him about that, but haven't made time. The story I heard on that was that the tire shop "didn't fit in with the vision for the St. Claude Corridor." Oh yeah, and they really had it in for Plan B, the non-profit bicycle cooperative. Huh?
Many of us in the neighborhood, who frequent all of these businesses, started wondering who was behind all this and how did they seem to have so much power? Who were these people that seemed to want to remove any small business in the area, or at least make it very difficult for them one way or another. The answer was always the same: The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, and in particular, a guy named Chris Costello. I heard tales of Costello threatening people, coming unglued in discussions meant to negotiate or mitigate any issues, and hurling obscenities at top volume in what sounded remarkably like some sort of Napoleonic temper tantrum.
Well, last week NOLA Defender reported an incident in the FMIA offices that led to a fistfight and assault charges. Their report details a violent outburst by Costello (who, it turns out, is heading up both the FMIA AND the St. Claude Main St. group) in which he attacked Eva Campos, treasurer of St. Claude Main St., putting her in a headlock as she was cleaning out her desk following a disagreement about policy. The NoDef report also mentioned a rather confusing group of addresses attached to both the FMIA and the St. Claude Main St. project, all somehow under the umbrella of Hestia LLC. Under that umbrella were numerous entities, but one name kept showing up, that of John Deveney.
Deveney had nothing to do with the physical altercation, but certainly seems to have some interest in the doings of FMIA/St.Claude Main St. I haven't yet seen an interview with Mr. Deveney, but would be very curious to hear his side of this story, as this week NOLA Defender uncovered what appear to be some very hinky contractual links between him and the Costello run organizations. NoDef discovered FMIA had paid Deveney Communication $30,000 in 2009 for "Contract Services." It gets stranger from there, as the NoDef report shows. The byzantine financial arrangements of Deveney/Costello include payments from FMIA to Deveney Communication for everything from "Security" to "Signs and Banners" during their push to quash the Cold Storage facility at the Wharf. According to NoDef's report, "in the Summer of 2009 after Costello personally petitioned area businesses and individuals to raise $21,569.28 for the NO Cold Storage campaign." Costello allegedly then signed the money directly over to Deveney Communications, over the objections of FMIA board members who felt doing so was a conflict of interest. Two board members subsequently resigned.
They were joined this week by Chris Costello, who decided it would be prudent to take a leave of absence for the time being.
Those of us who live here will be watching this closely as we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of conflicts of interest, strange cut and paste contracts, and indeed, the agenda of the Costello-run FMIA.