Dear Councilmember King,
Last week, a social media firestorm erupted when the Royal Frenchmen Hotel announced the city had shut down their bar, which turned out not be true. Royal Frenchmen Hotel itself shut down the bar and live music due to an inability to receive music permits, as they had been operating without permits for a long time. For many people, the issue of music here might seem like a new issue, but not for residents of the Triangle, who have been dealing with both outdoor concerts and indoor concerts at the Royal Frenchmen (with all doors and windows open) during COVID, but also before that, in 2017.
On November 17, 2014 (at an FMIA Meeting) and December 1, 2014, (at an NPP) Angela Mendoza Fabacher, Architect, met with neighbors on behalf of the developer, Hugh Stiel. The vacant property, which is outside of the Frenchmen Overlay, was the former home of Boys Town, and zoned HMC-1. It had to have its zoning changed to HMC-2, which is normally reserved for properties on the exterior of our neighborhood, in order to house a hotel above 10,000 sq ft. In the architect’s letter after the NPP, numerous neighborhood concerns were addressed, including the lack of enforcement of the Frenchmen Overlay, and concerns over having another cocktail lounge on a primarily residential stretch of both Royal and Frenchmen. The letter addressed this concern in Section 2.h, when it stated “The proposed cocktail lounge is small and would not be set up for live entertainment. It would be geared towards hotel guests and could bring in some small additional revenue for the hotel.” This is a far cry from the situation now.
Despite the City Planning Commission’s recommendation of a denial of the zoning change, the City Council approved the zoning change on April 9, 2015. After a beautiful renovation, the hotel finally opened in the fall of 2017, and outdoor music quickly became an issue. On November 9, 2017, Jen Cecil, the former Director, One Stop for Permits & Licenses, wrote a neighbor about the issue, saying she had met with Hugh (owner) and Dustin (manager)and told them that: “Outdoor entertainment is not permitted by their Live Entertainment permit. Outdoor Entertainment is not able to be licensed as a year-round use. Outdoor Entertainment is only allowable when a special event permit is obtained. All speakers within an establishment must point toward the interior of the establishment, and not toward the outside. Any additional complaint that is substantiated with photographs or recording or by NOPD will result in the City moving forward with administrative adjudication against the property.” The music moved inside (despite the developer’s promises to its neighbors to have no music in the cocktail lounge), because the Motion that the City Council voted to approve the zoning change didn’t include this promise. During the pandemic, music in the courtyard began again, including the assessing of cover charges, which is not allowed. During this time, the Royal Frenchmen (per One Stop) received five permits for wedding second lines and only one Special Event Permit for Live Entertainment, Outdoors that extended from 7/3/20 to 7/11/20, that cost a total of $100.25.
Despite the expiration of this permit, the nighttime music in the courtyard continued until a few days after June 23, 2021, when Clare Cahalan, the Special Events Administrator for the City of New Orleans sent a letter to the owner of the hotel, Hugh Stiel, stating that they were not permitted to hold outdoor live entertainment in the courtyard and that he City would not issue such permits “ due to its history of complaints and proximity to a historic district. You are ordered to cease and desist hosting or allowing entertainment other than interior spaces, such as a ballroom. Any future violations may result in enforcement activities including but not limited to the suspension or revocation of the business’ ABO license.” It was at this time that the bands simply moved indoors, but opened the doors and played to the crowd in the courtyard or on the street. In fact, there was at least one time that the Trumpet Mafia played on the balcony of the building to the crowd on the street below. In short, live music, which was not supposed to be allowed, is no longer ancillary to the hotel’s bar. It is the primary draw for the property. A hotel has now become a music venue.
Many of the citizens filing complaints have lived near the property long before the hotel opened, however they are being wrongly portrayed as transplants and being told to move. Additionally, online commenters are proposing to knock on doors to find the people filing complaints. This social media campaign has gotten out of hand, and the lack of facts has caused people to attack our citizens and their character.
We urge you to help restore citizens’ faith in the ability to enforce rules and regulations, as well as ask for respect be extended to your constituents by doing the following:
1)Support Clare Cahalan and Safety and Permits as they enforce the rules not just at the Royal Frenchmen, but at all properties that “have a history of complaints”, and especially those with a “proximity to residential districts.”
2)We do not believe that it is possible to enforce the developer’s promise not to have live music there, we do think it is crucial to make sure that they be required to have any and all necessary permits, and that they follow all the rules currently in place. Especially the requirement that all doors and windows be closed during performances. This standard should be applied to all venues as well, as it’s currently the rule.
3) Assure that this property remains a hotel and does not continue to act as a music venue, as it has begun to refer to itself. The music should be ancillary to the main purpose of being a hotel.
We appreciate your help in this matter and look forward to working with you in the future. As always, please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions, or if we can be of assistance.