The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office will build a new $4.8 million district station in Fat City, a development that proponents of the neighborhood’s nascent revival hail as a validation of recent successes and a harbinger of more to come.
Sheriff Newell Normand, Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng and others gathered Thursday for a news conference next to a worn, pink brick day care center and two other buildings on Hessmer Avenue that the JPSO has bought for $1.5 million.
After their demolition this fall, the assembled lots — totaling 40,000 square feet — will become home by early 2016 to the new station and its roughly 77 officers.
Normand said the building still is being designed, but it likely will include a gym as part of the JPSO’s initiative to encourage fitness and health among its employees. He said it also could include storefronts that would be leased out to retailers, adding to the stable of stores, restaurants and services already available in the Fat City neighborhood.
“We really want to make a statement,” Normand said. “This can be the CBD of East Jefferson for us.”
The JPSO already has a station on Hessmer, but the new building will be closer to Veterans Memorial Boulevard and more in the heart of Fat City.
Lee-Sheng noted that the announcement comes just a few days shy of the fourth anniversary of the start of the parish’s push to clean up Fat City, an entertainment-oriented district that over the years became known for seedy bars and the criminal activity associated with them.
Since then, the parish rezoned Fat City, and the JPSO’s Vice Squad has stepped up enforcement in the neighborhood. Lee-Sheng said many establishments have cleaned up their act and learned to live by the rules.
“Four years later, what you see before you is a neighborhood in transition,” she said, noting restaurants, a coffee shop, an arts supply store and other retailers that have since set up shop.
She said 100 new trees recently were planted and work on a dozen murals will begin in the coming months.
Normand said there were 150 “suspicious person” complaints in the area in April, a fraction of the roughly 500 called in during that month four years ago.
“I am very encouraged by that because (residents and business owners) feel more comfortable when those calls aren’t coming in at the rate that they were coming in before,” he said. “Their level of comfort has increased, and they’re becoming believers.”
Normand said there are half as many reported crimes in Fat City today as in 2006-07, and apartment complexes have joined businesses in improving their façades and landscaping.
“There is no doubt that the fabric and the feel of Fat City has changed,” he said.
Normand said he’s still thinking about the design opportunities the station will provide, joking that he has others involved in the project “pulling their hair out” with his ideas.
He suggested the “new urbanist” idea of hiding the parking behind the structure, and he said the proposed gym could attract JPSO employees who wouldn’t otherwise come to the area, leading to their spending money at neighborhood retailers and restaurants.
Normand said the child care center the JPSO bought was looking to relocate, while the building to the south was most recently home to an all-ages center for weekend concerts and the building to the north is a one-story empty brick building. The purchases also included a fenced-in lot used to store used cars.
The funding for the building will come from sales tax revenue collected during the parish’s post-Katrina boom that the Sheriff’s Office set aside for new district stations. The District 1 station is the fourth to be built, Normand said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.