Robért’s Fresh Market is asking for a tax break for the store it plans to reopen at St. Claude and Elysian Fields avenues, telling city officials that renovations have been costlier than expected.
Representatives for the company on Tuesday asked the city's Industrial Development Board for a 10-year freeze on the site's property taxes, which otherwise would likely rise sharply after the store is back in business. They said that without the freeze, the store wouldn't even break even until its fourth year of operation.
They also want a tax freeze for up to seven tenants in a proposed retail center on the same site.
The grocery store has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina.
“Without the addition of this (tax break), we fear that the project will not be able to come together the way we intended,” General Manager Marc Robért III said.
The 15-member IDB did not render an immediate decision. A committee of board members and city officials will discuss the request and make a recommendation to the full board.
Cost overruns are only the latest challenge for a $9.5 million revamp stymied by years of delay. Robért’s and the company's former landlord, the Schwegmann family, waged a court battle over the burden of paying for the building’s repairs after the storm.
This time next year, Marigny and St. Roch residents won’t have to travel far to make groceries.
The Schwegmanns, who ran a local supermarket chain from 1946 to 1999, operated their flagship location at the St. Claude site before it became a Robért’s in 1999.
That dispute was resolved in 2013 when the Schwegmanns gave Robért’s both the building and the insurance proceeds for the damage it suffered during the storm. And in January, Robért’s broke ground, pledging to complete a project by December that was widely touted as the missing piece of the Marigny neighborhood’s recovery after Katrina.
But crews have encountered more slab underground than they anticipated and have found the aging walls they expected to use for the building's structural support to be inadequate, Robért said. Already, the extra costs have forced them to abandon plans for a second-floor kitchen and a community seating area on the site.
Robért’s wants to pay $33,000 annually over the next decade, a move that would save it more than $2 million in property taxes.
Without the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, even more of the original design could be on the chopping block, Marc Robért said.
That PILOT would apply to both Robért’s and its prospective tenants.
Amid grumblings that the newly renovated St. Roch Market was designed more for upscale shopp…
Talks are underway to bring a small animal hospital to the site, Robért said. A restaurant, pharmacy, coffee shop and 24-hour fitness center also have expressed interest, though he said some are worried about being the first business of their kind in the area.
The Marigny neighborhood, though still recovering, has experienced a resurgence after a flood of new buyers sparked skyrocketing home values. New bars and restaurants have popped up, and the new North Rampart Street-St. Claude Avenue streetcar line, which came online last October, has been touted as a potential driver of more economic development.
The 27,000-square-foot grocery store and 14,000 square-foot retail outparcel are being funded with a mix of federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits and financing from the HOPE Federal Credit Union, which specializes in fresh food initiatives. The grocery will accept payments under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and award rebates on produce to customers who use SNAP.
Even if the PILOT is granted on property taxes, the project would still create $9.8 million in sales tax revenue for the city over the next decade, Robért said.