City officials said Wednesday that they plan to fence off an area under the Pontchartrain Expressway where one of the city’s most visible homeless encampments has waxed and waned over the past few years, clearing the way for public parking on the site.
It’s part of an ongoing effort by City Hall to clean up the area. Periodic sweeps and a city ordinance making it easier to remove belongings from public spaces have failed to solve the problem.
The city’s new fence, which will enclose the parking lots that extend along Calliope Street from St. Charles Avenue to South Rampart Street in the Central Business District, will force out dozens of homeless people, some of whom were camped there on Wednesday. The city plans on having it up by mid-April.
Reopening the parking lots, which have been chained off since 2012, also is designed to provide relief in a neighborhood where parking spaces are in high demand. And turning them into managed, paid parking facilities, as the city plans, also is expected to bring new revenue for the city.
Before the city closed the area to parking in 2012 to combat homeless encampments, the lots were under the state’s jurisdiction, and parking was free.
The New Orleans Building Corp. plans to ask for bids from would-be lot managers this spring. Officials said revenue estimates won’t be available until after an operator is chosen.
“Because of the limited number of on-street parking spaces available, returning this area to commerce will decrease traffic congestion and increase accessibility, which will ultimately improve commerce,” said Cedric Grant, the Building Corp.’s acting chief executive officer and the Sewerage & Water Board’s executive director.
The city has about 3,200 metered, on-street parking spaces in and near the CBD and French Quarter, officials said in December. All are in high demand. The city’s recent parking meter rate and parking ticket fine increases were aimed at increasing parking turnover.
Parking woes aside, “fencing this area and having it managed as parking will also help to keep the area more clean,” Grant said.
For years, the space under the expressway from Tchoupitoulas Street to South Claiborne Avenue has attracted the homeless, especially after Hurricane Katrina. Tents have emerged along the expanse, and as the number of inhabitants grows, the urban shanty town becomes more of a health hazard, officials say. Repeated city sweeps have done little to permanently clear it out.
Clint Thomas Daniels, who is homeless, said Wednesday the space is plagued by rats but he can’t afford housing.
“We need houses, man, we need tents, we need air mattresses,” he said.
The smaller parking lot area is a frequent gathering place. Erecting a fence there would do more to dissuade squatters, though it could also just push them elsewhere along the stretch.
Fencing plans were first approved in August 2014 by the City Council, a week after yet another sweep under the bridge. The administration then signed an agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Development to transform the space, and erecting a fence was a condition of that agreement, officials said.
The Gordian Group, of South Carolina, and FHPaschen, of New Orleans, have been hired to fence the area, at a cost of $332,000. The project will be funded by Union Passenger Terminal proceeds.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.