Neighbors push back against proposed conversion of Manhattan Athletic Club into rehab facility

The facility proposal has drawn the ire of neighbors, but supporters said it is needed in Jefferson Parish.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 11:18 PM CDT
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HARVEY (WVUE) - A group of Westbank neighbors claimed victory Wednesday after a Jefferson Parish councilman said he would pull a rezoning application to allow the Manhattan Athletic Club to become a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

Councilman Marion Edwards said he was reluctant to pull the rezoning proposal, which would have changed the zoning of the Manhattan Athletic Club from neighborhood commercial to a medical service district. But ultimately, he said he had to listen to his constituents.

“I’m responding to this outcry I got, as irrational as it was in some cases, and I’m cancelling the rezoning,” Edwards said.

Bill Boada, general manager of the Manhattan Athletic Club, said he hopes to donate the building to Giving Hope NOLA, a faith-based non-profit organization operating food banks on both sides of the Mississippi and a community center in Desire, among other endeavors.

Giving Hope NOLA would then hire Adult and Teen Challenge, a faith-based operator of rehabilitation centers across Louisiana, to renovate the building and open a short-term voluntary rehab facility. Attendees would be free to leave at any time and would stay for a period of 30 to 90 days.

“We have all of the amenities that our club had, for example basketball, racquetball, pools, so our mindset is we would like to substitute one addiction for another, and that would be fitness and taking care of the body,” Boada said. “I’ve been contemplating what I would like to do in the future and decided that I would like to repurpose the building to do some things to create a legacy for Manhattan.”

But the proposal has garnered pushback from some neighbors, particularly those living in the Stonebridge subdivision. The neighbors contend the facility would bring crime and lower property values in the neighborhood.

At a community meeting between neighbors and Edwards on Wednesday, a room at the Manhattan Public Library was packed with dozens of people, the majority of them in opposition to the project.

“Being a police officer, being assistant district attorney, being a teacher, I see so much. I’m for helping, I’m for getting them the help they need, but there’s so many other areas, and a residential area is not the place for that,” said Karen Davis, a Stonebridge resident.

“We already having some problems with crime, and we wanted to make sure everybody was aware,” said Ivan Jackson with the Espirit at Stonebridge Homeowners’ Association. “That’s why we had a grassroots campaign to get everybody in place for this meeting.”

Not everyone in attendance was opposed to the project though.

“These people have fear. We’re all affected by drugs,” said Quin Davis, who attends nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

Edwards, a retired judge who is credited with bringing Jefferson Parish’s first Drug Court in the late 1990s, said Adult and Teen Challenge runs some of the most successful rehab facilities he’s seen.

“There was never going to be any situations where they would be wandering the neighborhood, possibly vandalizing houses or stealing cars or any of that, that’s why I thought it might work,” he said. “But I knew it was a problem because I knew what the fear factor is here.”

Ultimately, this may not be the end of the line for the project, since the zoning change would have only made it possible for medication to be administered on site.

Boada said he plans to regroup with the other entities involved and attempt to find another path forward.

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