Friday, April 22, 2011

FMIA: Strange Days

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.

12 comments:

Lord David said...

The NOLA Defender article also pointed out that Chris Costello is living for free in a house designated as "office space" in exchange for doing some sort of officey stuff there.

Unlike the Lost Love Lounge or any of the others who have felt the threat of his wrath, Costello is in open violation of zoning regulations, which declare that street & the houses on it, illegal for offices of any kind.

Interesting that out of all his complaints, he is the only one openly breaking the law.

Sam said...

You're right, LD. And ya know, I wouldn't even give a shit about that if he wasn't running around harassing everyone else. It really IS the hypocrisy of that that bugs the hell outta me.

As for the weird money exchanges, I think that's gonna get bigger and bigger as more info comes to light.

lunanola said...

It might also be noteworthy that Mr. Costello recently withdrew the FMIA as a Board of Commissioners participating organization from the French Quarter Marigny Historic Area Management District (soon to be renamed French Quarter Management District).

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Thanks Slate.
I bought a house on Piety and will be moving back home this year (after some more fun with crowbars and contractors:).
Though I plan to join the Bywater Neighborhood Assn (next week) I did join the FMIA at the last Big Meeting involving Benny, Plan B, Eris and the Iron Rail, amongst other hood'biz.
I say this because Benny and all these other things you've cited are 100% the reason that I went ahead and did it, took the plunge, laid it on the line. I worked for Benny and would stand with that man any day. I thought I'd seen what he was capable of before the Flood, but the tact he took in those desperate days as the water receded and the mold rose and there was NOTHING is nothing short of brass balls entrepreneurial chutzpa.

I don't care what anyone says, getting a house is a big fucking deal and I'm not grandstanding. I'm proud and glad to be able to plug back into a life that I have lived in and out of as less than a wisp of a fool and errant troubadour since 1979.
Of course I'd planned to Move back to NO one day after the Flood, but it is everything that these assholes are Gaming Against that seduced me into making such a considerable investment outright.
And now I find this...punkery.
Bullocks. Fuckless bullocks.

missbhavens said...

Holy Wow. I had a feeling it was about to get ugly, but I had no idea it was going to get THIS ugly. Hestia LLC, indeed!

What was Ms. Campos threatening to reveal, I wonder? Maybe I watch too many crime shows, but surely their altercation was born of her "knowing too much".

Man, forget the FMIA. I'm worried about St. Claude Main Streets. I was very much under the impression that they were very pro-local businesses and anti-big box madness. I don't want to see the tire shop go. How positively wretched this all is!

And how INCREDIBLY JUICY!

cherie said...

Another opinionated carpetbagger. Go take your ass back to where you came from... Locals really hate people like you taking over our town.

Sam said...

Cherie, I'm pretty sure the house I was living in on St. Anthony and Burgundy has been sold, precluding my ability to move back there.

Nonetheless, thanks for the comment.

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Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

I would like to add that every person whom I met at the above mentioned FMIA meeting was cool as hell and somewhat more engaged in their neighborhood than I plan to be in mine.
But I need to plug in and am glad to've joined this group. What we do matters in the Marigny (where I lived many years and rode out the Storm and 1st week of the Flood) to the quality of life in the Bywater (where I may hopefully grow old and die).

Mark Folse said...

Neighborhood associations are always a bother one way or the other, but this one seems particularly bad and perhaps that's just a reflection of the "leadership". It would be interesting what Mr. Costello or his affiliated groups gave to Kristin Palmer if four people can override the wishes of the majority of the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Sam how can I get in touch with you? I live on the same block as Lisa Suarez and have lots of firsthand accounting of just how 'neighborly' she has been since day one of living here. She is probably one of the most vile human beings I have ever encountered.

Sam Jasper said...

You can reach me at jasper.sam@gmail.com