JP Sheriff's Office aiding transformation of Fat City

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - Efforts to remake Fat city have been underway for a while, and now the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office will make its own huge investment to make the area more inviting to businesses and young professionals.

"There is no doubt that the fabric and the feel of Fat City has changed," said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.

Normand announced that a new 1st District Patrol Station will be built in Fat City. Four adjacent lots have been purchased in the 3600 to 3700 blocks of Hessmer Avenue near Veterans Boulevard. The lots cost the sheriff's department $1.5 million. The new facility's construction cost is put at $4.8 million.

The current 1st District station is down the street at 4116 Hessmer, an area with several apartment buildings.

"We have been able to neutralize this area," said Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, who represents the Fat City area.

The goal over the past several years is to make Fat City more attractive to young professionals. Tony Ligi, executive director of the Jefferson Business Council, said he saw the fruits of such labors firsthand during a visit to Washington D.C., and he believes it can happen in Metairie.

"How they've transferred inner city areas and actually made them attractive to young professionals," said Ligi.

After major zoning changes, Fat City is shedding its image as a hub for strip joints and other seedy attractions. Lee-Sheng said the JPSO had played a huge role in the crackdown on violators - both businesses and individuals.

"The vice squad made big cases, we were starting to get big tips from the public, they've acted on them very quickly," she said.

The sheriff said complaints about suspicious activity and people in Fat City have decreased.

"I am very encouraged by that, because they feel more comfortable. Those calls aren't coming in at the rate that they were coming in before; their level of comfort is obviously increased. They're becoming believers," he said.

Warren Surcouf of Fat City Friends, Inc. is thrilled with the sheriff's office plans, but he said the area still has some challenges.

"There still are some development, some zoning issues that need to be addressed, but they're doing the best for it. Some of the businesses are happy for it, some of the businesses are, you know, hesitant to jump on board," said Surcouf.

During Wednesday's Jefferson Parish Council meeting, Councilwoman Lee-Sheng got her colleagues to approve a two-week suspension of operation for two Metairie bars that served alcohol to minors. One is located in Fat City.

"There's got to be a no-nonsense attitude about the way people run their businesses," said Ligi.

And while it's not etched in stone, Normand said the new facility could have some space for non-law enforcement commercial purposes.

"We're still toying with the design and whether or not we may even offer commercial space in here. We're looking at the pros and cons of that," he said.

He said he wants the new patrol station to be aesthetically appealing.

"We really want to make a statement - this can be the CBD of Jefferson for us. We have a beautiful mall within walking distance. We have incredible restaurants here now and more are looking," said Normand.

He said demolition of the existing buildings will begin next month. Normand hopes the new station can be completed by the end of 2015, or early 2016.

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