At the June 4 public hearing of the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee, often known by the more familiar abbreviation of NCDC (only because it sounds an awful lot like the band AC/DC), at least one committee member expressed concerns about the mission of the committee and about the conservation of one particular neighborhood located next to Xavier University.
Xavier presented plans to demolish 14 houses in the Gert Town neighborhood as it continues to develop its convocation center and as the university plans to build several tennis courts.
At least a dozen of the properties approved for demolition at the hearing are located adjacent to the new convocation center, which is under construction. Plans are to turn those spaces into parking lots.
According to the plans presented to the committee by Xavier representatives, three privately owned houses are within the block.
None of the property owners who will be surrounded by a paved-surface parking lot was present to comment.
This building on South Genois Street has avoided demolition for now.
This parking lot represents an even greater expansion into the Gert Town community, which is located across a canal from the main campus.
Members of the community expressed frustration with what they perceived as lack of focus on the community most heavily impacted by the expansion plans.
The Rev. Lois DeJean, a longtime community activist in the area, challenged Xavier to engage the community by addressing long-term needs of the low-income neighborhood and not just buying blighted properties to demolish them.
Xavier and the surrounding community have long experienced tensions over expansion plans.
Xavier University President Norman Francis has expressed frustration in the past with long-held perceptions within the community that Xavier will force them out.
In a 2011 interview in Xavier’s student newspaper, Francis contended that, although Xavier acquired property on the open market before and after Katrina, “We haven’t forced a soul out.”
Xavier’s plans for razing buildings didn’t all go unchallenged.
Also included in the application for demolition were two other properties that Xavier owns on South Telemachus and South Genois streets.
Plans for demolishing the Genois property were denied.
Among the buildings the university has purchased is the former Club RockaFella, the scene of a 2008 killing.
During the hearing, perennial candidate Norbert Rome also rose to address the committee, although it wasn’t obvious what his concerns were.