NEW ORLEANS - The St. Roch Market building is an important community icon.
“It's an anchor for the St. Roch neighborhood,” said Ben McLeish, executive director of the St. Roch Community Development Corporation, which has surveyed neighbors to find out what how they would like to see the building used.
The St. Roch Market is in the final stages of a $3.5 million renovation using city, state and federal funds, according to a city spokesman.
But McLeish said the city's process to get tenants in the building has been painstakingly slow.
One group of prospective occupants says that's why its members have decided to table their proposal altogether.
“It's really a question of taking a pause from working on the project and nothing else,” said Richard Sutton, owner of St. James Cheese Company Uptown and one of the founders of St. Roch Community Partners.
The group wanted to open a non-profit public market in St. Roch Market building, Sutton said.
“Not really a gourmet market at all but just a public market where people can get fresh foods and do it affordably, and do it in a way they can support other local businesses,” Sutton said.
But while the group said the city isn't acting quickly enough, city officials say the proposal didn't fit the community's goals.
“After a series of public meetings with St. Roch Community Partners, it became clear that there was not community consensus around its proposal. Our goal is to identify a tenant who will lease the property at fair market value, have a viable business plan and meet the needs of the surrounding community,” said Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant in a statement Wednesday night.
"That is the first we have heard from the city. They did a great job renovating the space and we wish them well. We love the St. Roch market and our city and we completely agree that the market should meet the needs of the surrounding community. This was a non-profit, civic undertaking for us and our only goal was to see an affordable community market occupy the space. We will be happy to share our materials or our plan with any other applicant," said St. Roch Community Partners in a joint statement of response.
The New Orleans Building Corporation, a quasi-public entity, hired Corporate Realty to select the best tenants.
The process has been frustrating, said McLeish.
“There's not clarity, there's not specifics as it relates to the lease, there's not communication back and forth,” said McLeish. “We are a little let down it's sort of sitting there.”
St. Roch Community Partners say they would love to resume talks if the city is interested.
The city says it's still reviewing proposals.
Because it's not a public bid process, there is no firm deadline on when an operator will be chosen.