NEW ORLEANS - The French Market is a bustling attraction, an icon of the city. But the public agency that runs it is losing thousands of dollars each month because of a delinquent tenant that won't leave.
“It's a substantial amount of money to the French Market and to the city that we are losing,” said Demetric Mercadel, chair of the French Market Corporation Board.
The French Market Corporation said Montrel's Bistro has been late on rent over a dozen times in two years. It was served an eviction notice in May, and hasn't paid rent since April.
It also racked up the most health code violations of any New Orleans restaurant between 2008 and 2012. Employees told Eyewitness News Montrel’s has been working to comply with health codes.
There were a number of serious citations during the most recent inspection in May. An inspector gave the restaurant a second chance and returned the same day to find most of the violations had been corrected.
“At this point there's nothing we could do. We've asked them to leave but they haven't left,” said Mercadel.
It could be months before Montrel's Bistro is forced to move out of its location. The French Market Corporation said it's taking the restaurant to court but is still awaiting a court date.
In a regularly scheduled public meeting Tuesday, the agency said it's working to find another tenant. It plans to reissue a request for proposals this week after an unsuccessful first attempt.
“Our vision is to have another restaurant in that location,” said Mercadel.
And while the battle with Montrel’s continues, the French Market Corporation is still working to pin down a permanent director.
The last two resigned amid controversy, and an interim director left for another job.
Now, the agency is negotiating with their prime choice for the job, Valerie Rivers.
“We hope to move that process along and maybe we'll have someone here by September,” said Mercadel.
The hold up? City ordinance now caps the salary at $94,000, which is $16,000 less than the previous director's earnings, and reportedly less than what Rivers is currently making.
The French Market Corporation voted to terminate Montrel’s lease months ago, though it would have been up at the end of the year.
Montrel's Bistro management would not return our calls for comment.
The French Market Corporation confirms the business has made all back payments, but says it is too late for the business to avoid being evicted.