NEW ORLEANS — A St. Claude Avenue grocery that has remained vacant since Hurricane Katrina while its owner and occupant battled out post-storm repair issues will once again serve the neighborhood now that the legal battle is over.
Since 2006, Robért’s Fresh Market, which operated a grocery in the former Schwegmann’s Super Market at St. Claude and Elysian Fields avenues, had been embroiled in a lawsuit with the Schwegmann family, which remained the site’s owner.
The dispute centered around restoration of the 35,000-square-foot building and who would pay for the repairs following the August 2005 storm.
Marc Robért announced this week, after seven years in court, that his company now has exclusive ownership and control of the property.
While Robért said he is “anxious to get started” on renovations, work will not begin immediately. The company must develop architectural plans to bring the building into compliance with city building codes.
“Since prevailing on all issues at trial, we have been able to negotiate a favorable settlement of all legal issues in lieu of further delaying matters,” Robért wrote in a prepared statement.
After years of legal battles, the issue appeared to be settled last March.
Following a three-week jury trial, a Civil District Court judge ruled that the Schwegmann family had to rehabilitate the property and pay Robért for lost past and future profits, in addition to legal costs.
But following that verdict and months of negotiations, the family agreed to hand over full ownership of the building to Robért’s, as well as all insurance proceeds and a settlement the family won in a separate lawsuit for lost rent.
John Schwegmann, one of six Schwegmann family members who owned the property, on Friday said that while there was not a uniform consensus among the other stakeholders to give up the property, an appeal of the jury’s decision was not attractive.
Paying more in penalties and court fees was a deciding factor, he said.
“Naturally there is always risk in litigation,” said Schwegmann, whose family opened one of its supermarkets in the building in 1946. “If you lose the appeal, then his (Robért’s) losses would grow because he’s not in there operating.”
Now that the legal battle for the site is behind them, Robért said his company is ready to get the building back into commerce.
“We intend to develop this property into something that our neighbors in the surrounding area can be proud of,” he said.