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Project to renovate, restore abandoned Bywater naval base stalled

Now behind chained gates, the City of New Orleans still owns the property and is responsible for securing it
Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 10:24 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The reputation of the abandoned naval base in the Bywater is unfortunately well known.

“They need to do something about it,” said Bywater resident Jerry Wickes.

“There’s a lot of drug use. The backside of it is full of bicycles they steal all the time. It’s dangerous. … Who is responsible needs to secure it first, whatever it takes for them to do that, (from) the people who are in there to protect them and us at the same time.”

When a fire broke out in the three-building, multi-storied, 1 million-square-foot property, even Clint Stanton who evacuated from the fire and should not be living on the property said something needed to be done to it.

“If anything, put it in military hands. It’s become the zoo that it is now,” said Stanton.

Bywater Neighborhood Association president John Guarnieri said, “We’re dealing with a property that’s had problems for well over 10 years.”

Now behind chained gates, the City of New Orleans still owns the property and is responsible for securing it.

The Bywater Neighborhood Association says a development team led by Joe Jaeger still intends to take it over, but that an application seems to have stalled with the Housing Authority of New Orleans.

“There was an application submitted to HUD for the financing of 250 to 300 workforce housing units,” Gaurnieri said. “Until they secure funds for that housing, there’s really not going to be any progress above and beyond that. Because that housing is what is going to be the impetus for the whole project.”

But HANO said it is not to blame for any development holdup.

“The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) is not involved in supplying any financing for the construction of the property at 4400 Dauphine, commonly referred to as the old naval base,” HANO communications director Suzanne Whitaker said in a statement. “HANO is in receipt of an application from the developer requesting tenant vouchers once the property is ready for occupancy. But the processing of that application is not associated with the construction financing and is in no way holding up the building renovations at the property.”

Without that funding, Guarnieri fears a setback of years renovating the property.

“It opens up a whole can of worms with the feds and stuff like that, so there’s an incentive to get it done. It’s just a question of being patient,” he said.

Firefighters estimate nearly 100 people continue to use the abandoned naval base as their illicit home.

“We (responded to) hundreds of calls over there for overdoses, stabbings. We found dead bodies, shootings, and open elevator shafts. There’s a lot of damage to the structure of the building and big chunks of concrete with exposed rebar inside there,” said Aaron Mischler, NOFD Union President. “It’s a death trap for anybody that’s in there, especially for firefighters.”

A city spokesperson gave the following written statement:

“The City of New Orleans is aware of the challenges at the Naval Support Activity site and is working with the site’s developer and various public agencies to ensure that conditions improve in the immediate future. Most importantly, the City remains committed to ensuring that a transformative project is developed at the site, and the City anticipates substantial progress to be made by the end of the year.

“The City expects that reactivating the site will not only bring jobs, housing units, and amenities to a neighborhood of opportunity, but will also improve the safety and security of the site for the community.”

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