NEW ORLEANS - Stallings may look like your typical playground, but neighbors say they're going to extraordinary lengths to make it a place where children feel comfortable.
Wednesday night, the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association celebrated a major court victory that they say will help keep it safe.
“I'm happy. I'm ecstatic, and it's good for the neighborhood, you know,” said Terry White, of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association.
A building next to Stallings used to be a Fair Zone Food Mart. Neighbors say it attracted litter, loitering, and crime.
They say crime dropped dramatically when the store was demolished after Hurricane Isaac, but the owner has been trying to rebuild with the same non-conforming permits.
“Stallings Playground is our only public place. That's it,” said Morgan Clevenger, president of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association. “We don't have a church, we don't have a school, we don't have any public place where the community can gather except Stallings.”
After a long bitter court battle in which neighbors teamed up with the city against the building’s owner, a civil court judge upheld the city zoning board's ruling this week, which means that alcohol can no longer be sold from the location.
“You are so joyful and thankful to have something finally positive occur after so much hard work,” said Clevenger.
By law, alcohol can't be sold within 300 feet of a New Orleans playground. But the Fair Zone corner store was grandfathered in.
The owner argued he should be able to keep the same permits since the store was destroyed by an act of God, in this case, Hurricane Isaac.
But a judge decided something else prompted the building to collapse.
“It wasn't destroyed in whole or in part by Isaac,” said Sarah Stogner, attorney for the neighborhood association. “What happened was, after years of neglect, the building finally caved in on itself, basically.”
A few blocks away, Fair Zone Food Mart #2 is open. The owner declined to speak on camera, but said he'll think twice about reopening next to Stallings because not having a liquor license would significantly hurt the business. He also maintained his store was not to blame for crime in the area.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood association says it will fight until the bitter end to make sure the playground remains a place where kids can play.
The building’s owner can decide to appeal.
An attorney for the store’s owner declined to comment, saying he needed to speak with his client about the judgment first. The store’s owner did not return an Eyewitness News call for comment.