Ignoring the last-minute objections of some residents and at least one City Council member, Kenner has completed the $1.5 million purchase of a vacant lot just off Loyola Drive for a new fire station.
The station will replace Fire Station 38, which will be demolished to clear the way for the widening of Loyola to ease the flow of traffic to the new Louis Armstrong International Airport terminal.
The purchase price was approved by the council in November, but in recent weeks a residents group and one council member tried to get the city to tap the breaks on the deal, arguing that the price was too high and other locations could be more suitable. However, an effort to call a special council meeting on the issue failed to garner the requisite support.
The new station will be about three blocks north of the old one, between Clemson and Duke drives.
Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn, in a statement issued after the closing of the purchase, batted aside the objections from Councilman Gregory Carroll and the group Citizens for a Better Kenner.
He noted that the city is using state and federal money to pay for the land.
"Despite the fact that no Kenner dollars are going into this project, this particular group objected to investing this amount of money in a low-income area," Zahn said, “but that is precisely where we need to invest dollars to spur economic development.”
Carroll, however, said the council had not done its due diligence when it approved the purchase. "We as a council should have done a better job of vetting this," he said.
Richard Brown, one of the leaders of Citizens for a Better Kenner, said the city put too much stock in high appraisals of the property's value. One appraisal, he noted, said the lot was worth $667,000, far less than the city paid.
"We believe the city has agreed to pay too much for the property," Brown said.
Other locations, such as a site with frontage on Loyola or one adjacent to the city police complex between Veterans Memorial Boulevard and the Interstate 10 service road, would have been better, he said.
Zahn disagreed, saying those locations have limitations that made them untenable. He added that the purchase was an opportunity for the city to use federal and state dollars to improve the city.
The purchase was part of a deal with the state to pay for the relocation of Fire Station 38, which sits in the Loyola Drive neutral ground just north of Veterans. That space is needed for interim improvements to Loyola in anticipation of the new airport terminal opening in the spring.
That road widening will be superseded by a new flyover ramp expected to be completed in the next five years.
The state and the city haggled for months over how much the state would pay to relocate the fire station, recently agreeing on $3.46 million to help the city buy the land, build a new station and rent an interim space for the firefighters.
According to the agreement, the city's firefighters were to be out of the old station by Thursday.