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TIMELINE OF PROPOSED TOPGOLF
IN THE LOWER GARDEN DISTRICT

Parcel 1A_Slide from 3/22 RDNI presentation to LGD
  • Lake side (west) of Tchoupitoulas; bordered by Tchoupitoulas, Euterpe, Annunciation, and Melpomene; abutting The Saulet apartments
     

  • Owned by Ernest N. Morial Convention Center; leased to River District Neighborhood Investors, LLC (RDNI). This is just one part of the entire RDNI development site.

LOCATION:

Parcel 1A with housing-grocer_Slide from 3/22 RDNI presentation to LGD

MARCH

2022

2022

Parcel 1A with housing-grocer 2_Slide from 3/22 RDNI presentation to LGD

Renderings of original concept for ‘Parcel 1A’, presented by RDNI representatives on March 9, 2022 live stream which was touted as their initial outreach to neighbors within 600 feet of the River District (referred to in subsequent meetings as a Neighborhood Participation Program (NPP) meeting). It is viewable on YouTube at 25:30.

Highlights:

  • Notable in the introduction by Nicole Webre is this comment, “we call the Convention Center’s development site the River District, however it is still very much a part of the Lower Garden District”
     

  • Parcel 1A renderings consist of residential (280 units) and commercial space (grocery & fitness), 740 parking spaces (we assume this amount of parking includes on the adjacent Parcel 1B).
     

  • Concept is to make west and east sides of Tchoupitoulas work seamlessly. Connectivity at 1) Euterpe & Tchoup; and 2) centralized hub at Tchoup & Henderson at existing traffic light.
     

  • Linear park the length of the buildings on Tchoupitoulas, because of Entergy power line overhead servitude agreement.

JUNE

2022

City Planning staff releases the first draft of the Convention Center Overlay District Text Amendment (widely referred to as the ‘Text Amendment’).  Included in the Maximum Building Height section (18.24.D.6) is language to allow screening and poles of up to 175 feet, but there is no mention of Topgolf.  Note that this was released AFTER the March 2022 NPP live stream – so there was no mention of the need for, or purpose of, this height allowance during that presentation.

august

2022

At an LGDA board meeting, RDNI representative Nicole Webre presents and has a Q&A session about the River District and the proposed Text Amendment.  In attendance is Cm. Harris’ land use director.  According to meeting minutes, the discussion included “NPP in March online with Q&A”, and the mixed-use residential/commercial vision for Parcel 1A.  There is no mention of TopGolf.

Behind the Scenes:  During 2022 RDNI is in confidential negotiations with TopGolf (according to a TopGolf Executive at the LGDA town hall on January 30, 2024).

sept

2022

220711 LGDA Statement on River District_Redacted_edited.jpg

September 11, 2022:  The LGDA board submits a letter to City Planning opposing the Text Amendment. Prescient comments in the opposition letter:

  • ‘There is serious concern that this text amendment could be a “Bait and Switch”.  For example, the proposed text amendment includes provisions for “transparent protective screening” for “outdoor amusement or sports facilities” (18.24.D.6.b) which is clearly an insertion for a Top Golf like facility - not seen anywhere else in the proposed campus plan or glitzy video.’
     

  • ‘It would be absolutely reasonable for our association, neighbors, and other stakeholders to be in favor of the lovely walkable neighborhood shown in the plan and video but against a Top Golf style facility’

September 13, 2022:  A delegation of LGDA board members speak at the City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing to express the board’s opposition to the Text Amendment.  The commission votes to recommend approval to the City Council.

oct

2022

October 12, 2022:  Two LGDA board members attend a meeting with RDNI representatives Todd James, Nicole Webre, and Ron Loesel to discuss the River District development in general.  There is no mention of TopGolf being a part of the development plan.

nov

2022

LGDA zoning committee member meets with our District B Cm. Lesli Harris to express the board’s strong opposition to the Text Amendment, which will be up for City Council vote in January.  According to his meeting notes, he conveys that “a project of this magnitude … demands more scrutiny rather than less”, and “the risk of a bait and switch is really high”.  In so many words, Cm. Harris said don’t worry about it, I’ll have your back.

Behind the Scenes: District B City Councilmember Lesli Harris has “friendly, conversational meeting with no solid plans for site or scope” about “Top Golf potentially coming into New Orleans”.  This meeting took place sometime in December of 2022.

dec

2022

jan

2023

2023

Despite all of the publicly stated neighborhood opposition, the ordinance to create “Convention Center Neighborhood Overlay District Text Amendment” is approved by City Council, unanimously, with the following language included in Section 18.24.D.6 MAXIMUM BUILDING HEIGHT (no mention of TopGolf):

c. A height of up to one hundred seventy-five (175) feet shall be allowed for transparent protective screening (fencing) including poles and other necessary structural elements encompassing the perimeter of outdoor amusement or sports facilities for public safety purposes.

Why this matters:  This allowance effectively allows a Topgolf facility by right.  If the 175 feet height provision had not been included, TG would have had to seek a variance for the height of poles and screening required for their facility, which would have triggered a Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) hearing that would have required an NPP for the height allowance.  This would have provided an opportunity for the neighborhood to voice opposition to this project before it was allowed by right. 

Cm. Lesli Harris is quoted in a NOLA.com article on January 5, 2023 entitled “New Orleans City Council clears way for expanded riverfront development”

“What I would like to do is keep the most impactful activities to the riverside so that it’s not really impeding into the neighborhood,” Harris said.

Thumbnail of Nola.comArticle

FEB

2023

TopGolf is publicly announced for the first time as part of the River District development plan.  LGDA board members, LGD residents and even District B Cm. Harris (by her own admission) learn for the first time that TopGolf will be built on Parcels 1A & 1B of the RD development, on the lake side of Tchoupitoulas.  Up until this point, most residents were still envisioning and expecting the 280 residential unit mixed-use concept shown in the March 2022 NPP – promoted as making “west and east sides of Tchoupitoulas work seamlessly”.

 

February 13, 2023:  A sparsely attended and not widely advertised “neighborhood stakeholders meeting” is held by RDNI & TG to break it to the neighborhood that TopGolf is going to be built on the LGD side of Tchoupitoulas (the definition of “impeding into the neighborhood”).  Todd James for RDNI, Zach Smith and Executives for TG are present.  In attendance are two LGDA board members. 

 

Notable from Q&A session:
 

  • Q:  Why can’t they put TopGolf on the river side?  A:  It doesn’t work with their development plans.
     

  • Q:  Are there other TopGolf locations in residential neighborhoods?  A: (from Matt Smith, Sr. Dir of Real Estate for TopGolf)  That is not typically the case and this is an exception.
     

  • There was no mention of, or discussion about, 175 ft. poles and screening. 

 

Note … The prescient concern of a “bait and switch” expressed in the LGDA Text Amendment opposition letter of September 2022 had come to pass.

may

2023

A combined Neighborhood Participation Program (NPP) meeting is held by TopGolf and RDNI.  In attendance are consultant Zach Smith on behalf of TG, plus TG “architects and team”, and Todd James on behalf of RDNI.  According to a summary from Zach Smith Consulting and Design, there were 47 people in attendance.  

 

What was discussed for TopGolf:
 

  • Variance request for size of signage on the building.
     

  • Variance request for increase to the front yard build-to-line requirement, from 3 ft. to 18.5 ft. (so variance of 15.5 ft.)
     

  • Variance request for use of EIFS for the building exterior
     

  • Issues including “lighting, parking, ADA parking, security, noise, traffic, EIFS on exterior building, stormwater management, amount of people to expect daily, trash receptacle placement, pedestrian and bike traffic and safety”.

 

What was NOT discussed:
 

  • Poles and screening of 175 feet!  TG didn’t mention because they don’t have to seek a variance due to the height allowance in the Text Amendment (see January 2023 note above).
     

  • Moving Melpomene to make room for TG driving range.  We have since learned that an NPP is not required for property disposition/acquisition.

 

Residents we have spoken to said they left this meeting feeling like this was a done deal, and there were only a few minor variance request hurdles for TG, but nothing that would halt the project and that there would be no more opportunity for community engagement.

oct

2023

In response to a NOLA.com article stating that TopGolf was “on track to be completed by end of 2024”, two LGDA members begin corresponding with Cm. Harris’ staff, and Cm. Harris herself.  They were asking:
 

  • Was it true that there were no more variances or approvals for the project to move forward? Essentially, was it a done deal?
     

  • To please provide whatever the councilmember’s office had on the project – scale drawings of netting and pole height, timeline of approvals, etc. – so that they could share with LGDA membership, because many people did not seem to understand much about the proposed project.

 

Cm. Harris and her staff reached out to TG and RDNI consultants to provide what was being asked for in terms of specs, schematics, and scale drawings.  The consultants referred LGDA to look on OneStop, and eventually provided a single visual of TopGolf poles and screening in another city.

NOV

2023

After much interaction with Cm. Harris and her staff, TG consultant Zach Smith, and RDNI rep Todd James, the two LGDA members learn that there is one more required permission that has to go before City Planning Commission (CPC) in December – a swap of land for Melpomene to be rerouted to allow for the TopGolf field to be extended, technically known as a disposition/acquisition.  LGDA members request a meeting with TopGolf consultant, which would not happen until January 2024.

dec

2023

December 5, 2023:  The LGDA zoning committee sends an email blast to membership to announce the upcoming CPC hearing on the Melpomene land swap, asking for people to write to CPC with opinions/concerns*. This email includes better scale renderings of the TopGolf footprint of two football fields, screening and poles of 175 ft., and the Melpomene rerouting.

 

*Side note:  This email gives a Dec. 7th deadline for community input, as that is the date provided to us by Cm. Harris’ staff, as told to them by RDNI representative.  The deadline for submissions was actually Dec. 4th, so CPC commissioners did not see the public comments ahead of time.  Would it have changed the outcome of the vote if commissioners had read the overwhelmingly negative opinions beforehand?  We will never know, probably not, but this oversight removed yet another chance for our voices to be heard and actually have an impact.

 

December 12, 2023:  RDNI rep Todd James presents the Melpomene land swap at CPC.  During the hearing:
 

  • Cm. Harris’ chief of staff submits an “information only” card, says that Cm. Harris supports TG and RDNI, and has been engaged with the neighborhood throughout. That's news to us. -The LGDA and LGD neighbors. 
     

  • Representatives of the mayor speak in favor of TG and of the land swap.
     

  • LGDA zoning chairperson, on behalf of LGDA board, speaks against the land swap and TG.
     

  • LGDA member speaks against the land swap and TG.

 

Commissioners vote unanimously to approve the land swap of Melpomene, with a proviso that the DOTD must approve the Melpomene street relocation.  One commissioner tells opponents that this issue has to go before a vote of City Council.

Behind the Scenes:  In mid-December, Safety and Permits issues a building permit to TopGolf.  This permit is granted before the issue of the Melpomene land swap has been presented or voted on by City Council, but after LGD residents have begun to seriously question the secrecy by which Topgolf came to be “fully permitted by right”.

Why this matters: This premature issuance of a building permit further removes LGD residents and stakeholders from having an actual chance of affecting the outcome of this unwanted project.  If TG did not have a building permit, neighborhood residents could have asked City Council to invoke an “Interim Zoning District” which could have halted the project until some specified time to allow for further scrutiny. 

2024

jan

2024

January 11, 2024:  The LGDA hosts its first TopGolf town hall – the goal is for the finally well-informed community to be able to ask questions about the Melpomene land swap (which will be up for City Council vote soon), and express thoughts on the entirety of the TG project.  TG consultant, Zach Smith, is the only representative there to field questions.  Cm. Harris sent a few staff members to observe, and one read a statement from her.
 

  • The town hall was well attended and covered by local media outlets.
     

  • Sentiments were overwhelmingly and strongly opposed to TG in this location, with many people citing height of netting, traffic, and lack of transparency as issues and concerns.
     

  • (Side note: two people questioned that the only other TopGolf in an urban location, Baltimore, was closing. Zach Smith said he did not know about that and would have to get back to us. We have since learned that the Baltimore TG location is not closing, but the land that TG is on was up for sale (a ‘net lease’ sale) and TG would continue to operate as tenant with a 20-year lease)
     

  • Despite representing TopGolf for at least a year now, Zach Smith was largely unable to provide answers for most questions, and said ‘he would have to get back to us’.

 

January 30, 2024:  The LGDA hosts a TopGolf town hall, part two.  There are individual presentations and Q&A sessions with each – District B Cm. Lesli Harris, RDNI representative Todd James, and TG consultant Zach Smith and TG executives.

 

From Cm. Harris we learn that:
 

  • she is “always willing to work” with her constituents, and gives her email address for people to contact her directly … lesli.harris@nola.gov
     

  • she learned that TopGolf contracted with RDNI to build on the lake side parcels of the River District when we all did – February of 2023.
     

  • despite being left in the dark on this highly intrusive business for her district, and the strong opposition of her constituents, and being forewarned of the “bait and switch” potential (which came to pass), she fully supports TopGolf being built in this location.
     

  • she believes TopGolf is necessary for funding 450 affordable housing units that she has “contractually obligated” RDNI to build.  Affordable housing is her top priority.

 

From RDNI representative Todd James we learn that:
 

  • RDNI could not find a grocery store interested in building on this parcel.
     

  • RDNI decided that all housing should be concentrated on the river side due in part to the danger of residents having to cross Tchoupitoulas to get to a grocery store.  A resident of the LGD who lives on Magazine St. pointed out the irony of LGD residents having to cross that same street to get to the grocery store.

 

From TG consultant Zach Smith and TG executives we learn:
 

  • very little.
     

  • that TG was in “confidential” negotiations with RDNI in 2022.
     

  • from a frustrated TG executive that he believes this is a “fully permitted project”.

feb

2024

February 28, 2024:  After a couple of postponements, the two LGD residents who started the forensic research in the fall looking into how this project came to be allowed by right, meet with Cm. Harris, three members of her staff, and a City Council attorney (there at her request).  They are specifically asking if Cm. Harris will 1) oppose the Melpomene land swap and encourage other City Councilmembers to join her, and 2) do anything else on behalf of her constituents to get TopGolf moved or shut down.  Cm. Harris tells them repeatedly that there is nothing she can do and that their only recourse is to sue (sad day for city governance).  They also learn that City Council cannot halt the project using the Interim Zoning District designation because a building permit has already been issued (see Behind the Scenes December 2023).

 

The same day they have a meeting with two staff members of at-large councilmember JP Morrell.  They learn that Cm. Morrell will be recusing himself from the Melpomene land swap vote; no reason is given.  The staff members are also quick to point out that the Interim Zoning District option is not available because of the building permit issuance.

Full Council letter - FINAL_v8_Page_1.png

march

2024

March 2, 2024:  The LGDA Executive Committee and LGDA Zoning Committee release a call-to-action letter to all city councilmembers with three specific requests to help halt this project, and their reasons why. (see the letter here)

 

March 21, 2024:  The Melpomene land swap (disposition/acquisition) is up for a City Council vote.

?

"I strongly oppose because a Top Golf is not a suitable tenant and does not
complement the historic nature of this neighborhood. When the development group first presented at a town hall meeting in 2022, they stated that this location would consist of an apartment complex with a grocery store and a gym, not a Top Golf. Classic bate (sic) and switch."

excerpt from long form answer lgd neighborhood survey

Four Ways to Be Heard

Let city, state, and corporate leadership know you care about transparency, housing, corporations paying their fair share, and the unique fabric of New Orleans' neighborhoods. Let them know New Orleans deserves an opportunity to voice their opposition to the TopGolf development. 

Write to the City Council directly ASAP before the April 4th vote
Send An Email >

SHOw up April 4

Attend the City Council Meeting Thursday, April 4 beginning at 10am 

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