Government & Politics

Marigny grocery’s state money diverted to new iron factory

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer

A New Orleans food cooperative building a grocery store on St. Claude Avenue is among the many projects statewide that stand to lose money as the state shifts funds to a North Carolina steelmaker’s new St. James Parish operation.

The grocery expected to get $375,000 to equip the store.  Other New Orleans projects losing money to the Nucor Corp. complex include a $300,000 makeover of the tennis center in City Park, a road project in eastern New Orleans and an appropriation for the Children’s Museum.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration wants to steer a total of $30 million in state outlay funds to Nucor as part of a deal to lure the manufacturer to Louisiana.

Around the state, Jindal’s decision will kill renovations of museums, higher-education buildings and recreational centers. At Louisiana State University, Nucor’s gain will cost a $1.1 million renovation of old engineering shops into art studios and a $600,000 dormitory for the university’s Fire and Emergency Training Institute, according to the state Bond Commission. The commission must approve the shifting of the money, and it will consider the move Thursday.

The $375,000 construction outlay for the co-op approved over the summer was to pay for grocery equipment that would outfit the store, an anchor tenant in the old Universal Furniture building on the corner of St. Roch and St. Claude avenues in the Faubourg Marigny. The project, dubbed the New Orleans Healing Center by developer Pres Kabacoff, will also include an organic restaurant, a meditation space and a performing arts venue.  There are no other grocery stores in the neighborhood, or for miles around it.

“This is a project the New Orleans legislative delegation really stood behind because it is so important to the health of the city, and that’s why we were able to get that money,” New Orleans Food Cooperative President Michael Smith said.

Even so, legislators overwhelmingly went along with Jindal’s financial transfers, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in a prepared statement that the governor’s aides “are responding to questions from stakeholders and trying to help answer any questions they may have.”

The shifting of money has angered local officials in Baton Rouge who say that the governor should not be taking money from local public projects and giving them to an out-of-state corporation.

One of the projects that lost out to Nucor is a YMCA in north Baton Rouge, Smith said. A $400,000 capital outlay was supposed to buy the newly built recreation center equipment it needs before its planned opening in the coming months. Baton Rouge state Rep. Patricia Smith told The Advocate that the Jindal administration should have taken money from an economic development fund instead of yanking funds from community projects.

“We understand that Nucor came in at a late date, but some of these projects will probably never get funded now,” Rep. Smith said.

On St. Claude Avenue, Michael Smith is keeping hope alive that the state will find other money for his project.

“Its totally legitimate that they want to fund Nucor’s job creation, but our project is also going to create jobs,” Smith said, speaking in the dusty interior of the future grocery store. “Now what we have is a delay for downtown New Orleans and a win for St. James Parish. Hopefully the state will equal the score.”

Nucor has told the Jindal administration it plans to build a facility that could eventually grow a $3.4 billion steel and iron mega-project along the Mississippi River.  If that happens, the project is projected to employ 1,250 people. The Bond Commission has already set aside $600 million in untaxed Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds for the project.

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  • Thanks Lens Nola. Those who want to get involved or invest as a member-owner in the co-op grocery store can check us out at

  • According to Bloomberg Business Week this wasn’t some unilateral decision by the Governor or the State Bond Commission. Our legislators overwhelming voted by mail ballot to approve these budget changes.
    “In results released Wednesday, the House voted 94-4 and the Senate voted 30-4 in favor of a change in the construction budget that will allow Nucor to get the money this year.”

  • (There are no other grocery stores in the neighborhood, or for miles around it.)
    There is a 24 hr full-sized grocery store at Mardi Gras Zone, 2706 Royal St., which was re-purposed within the first months after the Federal Flood 8/29//05.
    How could you miss this? This was the ONLY grocery store after the flood period. How could you miss this? Do any of you even live in the Marigny/Bywater?
    Well? WTFF?
    And furthermore, Benny Naghi did this without making a freak movement of it or soliciting taxpayer help. He just did it, because the Mardi Gras Bead Game was Over for the time being.

    For Goddamned Sakes, stop trying to turn New Orleans into Boulder, Colorado. They are atomic opposites.

  • ariella cohen

    I beg to differ. I live in the Bywater and often find myself at the Mardi Gras Zone, feeling sorry for myself because I have no choice but to purchase $5 container of hummus because there is no FULL SERVICE grocery store in the area. I do value the Bead Zone, as I like to call it. It stocks milk, a limited supply of produce and as I stated, overpriced hummus and other Mediterranean products, but the store is no replacement for a full, say Rouses or Robert’s, where one can find food at lower prices and at much greater variety.

  • Colby

    Mardi Gras Zone is great in many ways, such as being open 24/7, but at its core is just a giant convenience store, not a grocery store. It was been evolving over the years, and might one day become more of a full fledged grocer, but its not there yet….

  • Edtilla,

    I read and respect your work as a blogger which is why I am taking the time to respond to your comment.

    The point was meant to be “full service grocery stores,” not just anywhere you can make groceries, which is often defined in the industry as a grocery store with 3 or more checkout counters and a complete set of departments (such as dairy, meat, produce, baked goods, dry goods, wine, beer, etc). Mardi Gras Zone doesn’t fit that description, though there is no doubt that the owners of MGZ have done us all a huge service by adding food to their business since the flood.

    There are over 250 cooperative food grocery stores all over this country (except for Louisiana and Alabama), not just in liberal areas such as Boulder, Portland, Madison or Burlington. The closest co-op grocers to us are in Jackson Mississippi and Pensacola Florida, which I would say are more like New Orleans than Boulder. While it is fun to characterize your fellow downtown New Orleans residents trying to open a cooperative business which will directly create 18 full time jobs as a freak movement, I would suggest you watch my interview on FOX8 at 5:30 tonight, read the article in the Times Pic about us tomorrow, check out our website and maybe even consider coming to one of our meetings. Then you can at least call us freaks in an informed manner. Hell, you could even write a blog piece on how freaky we all are because we like to have potlucks, go to costume parties, and are trying to improve New Orleans from a grassroots level. It would be welcome publicity.

  • M. T.

    The discussion of the status of Mardi Gras Zone (“full service grocery store” vs. “convenience store”) is interesting, but unfortunately the claim that there are no grocery stores “for miles” is still a dubious claim.

    Save-a-lot on Almonaster is, by my map, less than a kilometer (or about 3/5ths of a mile) from the Universal Furniture site. The store definitely has 3 or more checkout counters, and carries dairy, meat, produce, baked goods, and dry goods. Save-a-lot does *not* carry wine or beer — in fact they carry no alcohol or tobacco. Is this what disqualifies it from being a full service grocery?

    (While I can see how one could argue that the Marigny/Bywater neighborhoods have limited choices for food shopping, I can’t imagine anyone ever claiming that they suffer from a lack of access to wine and beer!)

    Mardi Gras Zone probably does qualify in each of those categories, including wine and beer, although only marginally in the produce department, as Ariella mentoined. However Mardi Gras Zone has but two computerized checkout counters, not the 3 or more required. (Low prices was not listed as a criterion, but if it were then it would also exclude Robért Fresh Market!)

    Despite the fact that I do shop at both of the above stores, I would welcome a food co-op to New Orleans. But I think arguing that it would be the only grocery in the neighborhood would rely on these technicalities — effectively branding the store “Save-a-lot plus wine and beer” or “Mardi Gras Zone with one more checkout counter.” You can do better.

    There are compelling reasons to support a food co-op in New Orleans, but those technicalities are not compelling. Focus on the “Co-op Advantage” of sustainability and social responsibility, staying local, and member ownership — and then your nearest competition is in Jackson, MS, not on Royal St or Almonaster.

  • Beth

    I see the advantages of a co-op, but don’t understand why it requires state funding. (For that matter, why does Nucor?)

  • I’m gratified by all of your responses to my question regarding whether there is a Grocery Store in the Marigny/Bywater.
    Ariella, thanks. “Grocery Priceing” was never part of your article, (that argument knocks Whole Foods out of this criteria don’t you think?) but since it has been brought up I’d ask: Michael, how many of these food co-ops you’ve cited are Tax Funded, specifically those in Jackson, MS and Pensacola, FL?

    Michael, I like freaks. I just don’t enjoy being taxed to pay for their lifestyle. I’m an old-school freak with nearly a dozen Rainbow Gatherings, 2 Food Coop memberships, director of 8 Earth Day Celebrations, and bazillions of potucks under my belt. I have also lived in Boulder, CO. Usually one can choose or not to join a Coop, hence the name. But unfortunately you would legislate my support for yours before it even exits. I find that a disservice to the whole idea of real grassroots and more akin to political astroturf. Real Food is apolitical. Food Coops represents artifacts over politics, at lest the ones with whom I’ve dealt.

    There is a food coop in Monroe, La that is not Tax funded.
    Here is a fairly good list of natural food stores in Louisiana:
    While I don’t know which of these are Coops, they are hard working Louisiana businesses who pay their taxes.

    Then there’s Coop’s on Decature. Nuff said.

  • WeDeserveBetter

    I love Mardi Gras Zone and do feel that they have been an asset for the area BUT, if you actually live in the Marigny/Bywater area you would know that they DO NOT sell wine or beer AND that the produce selection is shameful. Our best produce option is the Okra Man and his new truck filled with $1 a piece tangerines that you can only purchase if you happen to be off of work in the daytime if he happens to drive around. We are a great set of folks(some with children) down here and deserve easier access to healthy food. I am excited about the prospect of a natural foods store in our area and do not feel a bit guilty about the potentiality of government assistance to make this a reality. We got totally screwed after Katrina…..OUR money is being diverted elsewhere. Wake up people!

  • Michael, had a long chat tonight with your (and my) friend Lamar. He will be giving you my personal email.
    Ariella, I’m one of your biggest fans. Really.

  • 8th Ward Resident

    I’m all for a new grocery store. You know Save-A-Lot is right in the neighborhood but most marshmallows are afraid of it because it’s on the wrong side of St. Claude. I want Robert’s back! I’m sick of overpriced groceries which I think is what the healing center will probably be pushing. We need run of the mill affordable produce! As far as funds going to artists studios, can’t whitie get a day job and just pay for artists’ studios? Suck it up! New Orleans can’t even get it’s students literate or recycle. I’m not shedding any tears for a bunch of artists who can’t foot their own bills even when they are on food stamps. Until we get a decent educational system, there will be a growing disparity between the rich and the poor and wheels will never turn. As far as Press and Sally Anne are concerned, Try, please to keep it reasonable. I need cheap produce and grains. Please don’t ream us on this one.

  • Christina

    Other community projects loosing funding include: UNO (for Science Building renovation), a Treme community program for work on the Leverette Senior House, the Irish Channel St. Andrew Street Elderly Resource Center and the Milne Boys Home in Gentilly for construction. All these projects loosing funding without even the courtesy of being directly informed that they were loosing funding. Thanks, Jindal, way to work for the people.

  • mishlen linden

    I love Marid Gras, but I sometimes wish I could get natural foods on this side of town, rather than having to make an afternoon trip to a place you have to detour amongst mothers with their designer twins (so in vogue) and unaffordable prices…