Is the Five O Fore Golf Driving Range Another Hard Rock Hotel Disaster Waiting To Happen?

Photo credit: Danae Columbus

It’s one thing when your neighbors build a new kitchen without the proper permits. But when a multi-million dollar construction project lacks the necessary permit, will anyone notice? Where is the New Orleans Industrial Development Board in this matter? Don’t they or shouldn’t they have oversight on a project that financially impacts New Orleans taxpayers? And on a related point, who has oversight over the IDB? Their last published financial statement was in 2020.

Armed with a substantial tax break from the IDB, Five O Fore developer Alex Xaio has apparently been hustling to complete his $47 million, 67,000 square foot driving range at 3800 Howard Avenue in the fall of this year.  But at what price to public safety and who is responsible for monitoring the development?

In essence, the IDB seems unable to monitor the City dollars it gives away or even the projects that those tax benefits go to. Since its creation in 1973, the IDB has provided bonds and funding through PILOT (an acronym for payment in lieu of taxes) incentives for more than 120 projects representing almost $1.7 billion of capital investment, including $1.34 billion of project investment since Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans this is serious money and a burden on its citizens.

If no one is paying close attention to the Five O Fore development, could mistakes arise similar to the Hard Rock? It appears that Xaio has been jumping ahead of the city’s permitting process and city inspectors have not stopped him. Adding insult to injury, New Orleans property owners were just informed that their property taxes will increase again. At the same time this princely venture moves forward on taxpayer’s dollars and in apparent contempt of permitting.

A review of Five O Fore’s file on the city’s One Stop website identifies several glaring deficiencies. Five O Fore did receive a permit almost three weeks ago for a temporary pole for a construction trailer. The permit for the trailer itself was not approved and had been previously denied.  Nevertheless the trailer is parked in the construction site next to a large utility pole.

As an example of Five O Fore’s permit issues, the trailer permits are noted on the city’s One Stop system and clearly informs the builder what is required to correct the deficiencies. The trailer permit has not been issued because of open intake issues. The intake staff noted that the builder failed to submit proof of ownership of the property that the application is being filed for-such as the lease, did not provide a drawing which clearly indicates the generator between the property lines and the distance between the generator and the building. The builder failed to submit a site plan indicating dimensions of the applicable structure/equipment and distance from all the property lines. Also needed is a letter of permission from the owner of the property to place the trailer on the lot. All of these items appear to be simple requirements found in the City Code for a reason-namely the correct steps you follow in constructing a safe building in New Orleans.

Drive Shack, the site’s former developer, received a permit in 2019 for foundation work only. Xaio apparently acquired the project in 2022. Despite the narrow scope of Drive Shack’s permit, Xaio appears to be building well beyond the foundation and even installing cladding on a large section of the building’s exterior.

Persons who frequently obtain construction permits from the city assert that a number of the deficiencies-such as those above-should have been addressed before the project moved beyond the foundation stage. Five O Fore’s failure to do so could in fact place the project in violation of City of New Orleans’ permitting regulations and jeopardize its completion.

City One Stop records list multiple open issues including the need for one Mechanical Plan Review for mechanical and plumbing drawings; the need for a second mechanical review to ensure certain energy codes are met and that those plans are stamped by the appropriate licensed professional; the need for an Electrical Plan Review regarding the same energy code requirements and the need for a Commercial Plan Review to ensure energy conservation. A mandatory Stormwater Management Plan -also not yet submitted- will designate the areas for permeable paving, among other things.

While it is possible for Xaio and his general contractor Parkes Construction to bring the project into compliance, skeptics are already questioning Xaio’s future credibility considering his performance to date.

“New Orleans does not need another Hard Rock disaster where a developer’s lack of oversight can cause irreparable harm to the community,” said one nearby property owner. As to the IDB, considering their distribution of $1.24 billion to project investments since Hurricane Katrina which were financed by New Orleans taxpayers, the same property owner asks “Who is overseeing them?”

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