NEW ORLEANS — If your bike was stolen in New Orleans recently, it may have ended up at the old Navy complex on Poland Avenue.
Bywater neighbors say they’ve noticed people bringing bikes up to the blighted and abandoned, city-owned complex in recent weeks. WWL-TV drone video of the base shows dozens of bike frames, wheels, and other bike parts in piles in the middle of a tent city on the old basketball and tennis courts.
Neighbors wonder if it is the location of a chop shop for stolen bicycles.
“That doesn’t surprise me a bit,” said Desiree Baiamonte who owns Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant across from the 18-acre facility. “I’m sure there’s a lot more in there than bicycles.”
“I don’t know what they’re doing in there,” Bob Peterson said. “There’s generators in there. People live in there.”
Some neighbors suspect people are getting what they can for the bike parts and selling the rest as scrap metal.
“It’s a free for all,” Baiamonte said. “All hours, day and night, there’s people going in and out, vagrants, they’ve pretty much taken over.”
Peterson spends a lot of time visiting a friend in the neighborhood. He says the old base is now home to a small city.
"I don’t know who’s keeping an eye on it, obviously no one,” Peterson said.
One man who didn’t want to be identified says not everyone living in the old complex is a criminal.
“It’s challenging and a little difficult, but it’s a roof over our heads, a warm place in the winter,” he said. “Some of us have gotten out of jail or have been displaced, we found a home here, temporarily. Yes, it is drugs and guns, but also don’t forget we are here as well.”
Earlier this month, developer Joe Jaeger told members of the Bywater Neighborhood Association that he has plans to build 300 affordable housing units at the old Navy base. Neighbors asked him to start by securing the complex. But the gates are still wide open and there are holes in the perimeter fence large enough for people and bikes to pass through.
According to New Orleans police, they have not noticed an uptick in bike thefts in the 5th District which includes the Bywater neighborhood.
“NOPD is aware of issues surrounding the former naval base, including people illegally occupying the area and trash accumulating as a result,” the NOPD said in a prepared statement. “Officers have been working with other city departments – Code Enforcement, Sanitation, etc. – in efforts to clean up the site.”
Jeff Feilden, with the MCC Group owned by Joe Jaeger had this to say about security measures at the old base, "The front gate has been on order and will be installed as soon as received by the fence company."