There is a controversy over a proposed Cuban restaurant in the French Quarter. Members of the French Quarter Citizens group and the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates oppose the plans for a new restaurant to be named Habana Outpost. The concerns range from the potential of crowds overflowing onto the sidewalks to resentment over the owner not meeting with neighbors before moving forward with plans.
Today, I went to the area where this Cuban restaurant is planning to open. The location is at the corner of Rampart and Esplanade. It is an old abandon gas station at a very busy intersection bordering the French Quarter. There are a few signs in front of nearby houses that have a red circle with a line over the words Habana Outpost. (Scroll down to view photos of the building and the area.)
Yet it isn’t difficult to figure out the opposition to this restaurant. It’s part of the ‘not-in-my-neighborhood’ mentality, which is very popular in New Orleans. I can’t image that a restaurant replacing an old abandon gas station would not be an improvement and would further the trend of renovating that area of Rampart St.
The property is licensed for commercial use and the plans presented to the Vieux Carre Commission include a play area for children. The residents that are aggressively opposing Habana Outpost have embarked on what might be considered unfair tactics. The developer, Sean Meenam, is trying to set the record straight on some of the untruths the neighbors have been spreading.
Contrary to what has been promoted, the restaurant has no plans to be open 24 hours. The restaurant will feature Cuban cuisine along with beer and drink specials, but will promote a family-friendly atmosphere. The New Orleans restaurant will be modeled after the restaurant the developer owns in Brooklyn. The neighbors have been circulating pictures of the Brooklyn location, which is named Café Habana, that show a crowded courtyard and customers flowing out onto the sidewalks. But the developer says that the pictures are from a special event night and he obtained all the proper permits for the event.
And any concern that the design of the new restaurant would not fit the character of the French Quarter should be snuffed out by the reality that the current old abandoned gas station isn’t visually or historically congruent with the architecture of the French Quarter.
This may offend the neighbors who are fighting the development of this new restaurant, but I’ll be honest. I was born here and grew up here and there is a mentality of entitlement when it comes to certain neighborhoods. Often the residents in these certain neighborhoods have money and power and feel justified in using both to prevent growth that benefits the city overall. Remember the recent controversy over plans to build a football stadium on the Tulane campus? That controversy held the same characteristics.
As a city, we should denounce opposition that is founded in the selfish desire to discourage growth that might change a neighborhood. And when I say ‘change a neighborhood’ I mean from the status quo and not in a negative way. The property that these people bought homes next to was licensed as commercial property. What part of that do they fail to understand?
The corner of Rampart and Esplanade is a busy, noisy intersection, so why would there be opposition to turning an old abandon gas station into a thriving new restaurant? Would there be less opposition if the restaurant were to be named “American Outpost?” I never underestimate how close-minded people can be.
One of the most striking things I saw today was on my walk back to my apartment. I turned into the Quarter and about a quarter of a mile from Rampart and Esplanade there was an anti-Habana Outpost sign and next door there was a sign applauding the new Tulane stadium that is being built on the Tulane campus. That totally explained the not-in-my-neighborhood mentality!
I have always supported what I think is best for this city. When I was on WWL in the 90’s, I supported the casino and denounced the passionate opposition. I think we can see the many benefits for the casino to our city. The casino led to new hotels, new restaurants and the development of that part of the city close to the river. And the new Cuban restaurant planned for the corner of Rampart and Esplanade will lead to more positive development in that area of town.
If you buy a house near commercial property and someone wants to develop the property, do you really have a right to stop them? If you live near Rampart and Esplanade you are free to move!
This is the old abandoned gas station on Rampart & Esplanade: