New Orleans City Council questions benefits of owning ‘money pit’ Pontalba apartments

Published: Nov. 13, 2023 at 10:57 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Day 8 of the New Orleans City Council budget hearings saw the city’s benefit of owning and playing landlord to the French Quarter’s Upper Pontalba apartments called into question.

Patience wore thin on Monday (Nov. 13).

“We’ve been here for a long time, so if you want to cut to the chase a little bit?” councilman Joe Giarrusso said as the French Market Corporation set up its presentation.

Up for discussion was $8 million requested from city taxpayers to pay for roof, patio and HVAC renovations for the city-owned Pontabla apartments.

The property is divided into 16 townhome structures, made up of 50 residential and 16 commercial units.

Council president J.P. Morrell said he wonders if the city should wash its hands of the property for good.

“Why? Why have the Pontalba?” Morrell asked.

The apartments are riddled with the same kind of water damage the city has dealt with since it first took ownership in 1930. Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins said he senses council fatigue regarding the property.

“Cities are not good landlords. They just don’t operate with the same level of efficiency that the private sector does,” Collins said. “The council is definitely tired of folks coming to ask for money for renovations. But, also, I think just the whole administration of the Pontalba, the whole issue of the mayor’s (former) apartment this year. I think this particular city council is simply tired of handling it.”

Morrell called many of the units ‘uninhabitable.’

“The Pontalba is a money pit,” Morrell said. “It’s the property where, no matter what you replace on it, another piece is going to fall off.”

Collins said he sees a potential compromise. He says if the city could maintain ownership of the property but alter usage of the space, it would eliminate the burden of residential property management.

“I think the issue here is whether or not this historic building should be used as private rental property,” Collins said. “Or the city might just say, ‘You know what, we’re not going to deal with this anymore. This is an expense. This is a money pit.’ So, just put it up for sale and find a good owner -- a responsible owner -- and allow them to operate and manage it.”

The asset, with its sister building across Jackson Square, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

Regardless of ownership, Collins says protections to preserve that history, notably in the facade of the buildings, would still be enforced.

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