It's easy to see the old Navy base at Poland Avenue and the river in New Orleans is not what it once was.

The three, six-story, half a million square feet buildings that once dominated a thriving military installation are being demolished by neglect.

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The Seamen and Marines that once drilled there have now been replaced on the property by vagrants, drug addicts and scavenger hunters.

Lauren Swinney who is 95 years old lives across the street from the facility. She remembers the base in it's prime.

"Oh, the Naval facility. It was a joy to have it in the neighborhood," Swinney said.

The fence that used to secure the facility is full of holes where trespassers come and go at all hours of the night and day.

Swinney calls the current condition of the property sad and tragic.

"Now graffiti and leakage and marauding groups spend the nights there," Swinney said. "People who live around here do not go out after dark near that area which is an abomination of the way it used to be. The pride of our area."

Bywater neighbor Judy Bolton says the huge blighted property breeds criminal activity.

"The neighbor has a window broken out," Bolton said. "Some other neighbors have had cars stolen. That's just in that part of the block. On the far side of the block there's a lot more crime happening."

The base closed in 2011 and turned over to the city at no cost two years later.

"There is an active and ongoing conversation regarding the development of that site," New Orleans Communications Director Beau Tidewell said. "Members of the administration were meeting with the developers (Tuesday), in fact—and discussed a possible timetable, among other topics."

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Neighbors say five years is long enough to at least figure out how to secure the property.

"Whoever is going to be developing this and making the money from this project, they need to start making sure that it's safe," Bolton said. "We aren't safe here."

Tidwell addressed the crime problem saying, "NOPD 5th District officers currently respond to major incidents on the site and are working to keep people safe. As the development process moves forward, addressing security concerns will absolutely be part of the conversation."

The city chose a partnership called EMDRC to develop the site in 2012. It is a joint venture whose members included New Orleans Homeland Security Director Col. Terry Ebbert and businessmen Joe Yeager and Bill Ryan.

Tidwell said Ebbert is no longer affiliated with EMDRC.

"He formerly held a one percent interest, which he transferred in June of this year, prior to starting work with the City. In his current capacity as Director of Homeland Security and Public Safety, Col. Ebbert is not involved with negotiations with the developer regarding this project--- which falls under economic development."

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In the meantime neighbors want Mayor LaToya Cantrell to force the developer to move ahead with the project.

"This is a treasure that should be preserved and used," Swinney said.

New Orleans officials have sought to redevelop the site into a mixed-use property that would include government facilities, disaster shelters and office space for firms dealing with disaster preparation and recovery, in addition to more traditional offices and apartments.

Paul Murphy can be reached at