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Friday, November 21, 2014

Judge clears Marigny Opera House for Fringe Festival shows, but questions remain about the facility's future

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 2:08 PM

click to enlarge Dave Hurlbert, director of Marigny Opera House. - WILL COVIELLO
  • Dave Hurlbert, director of Marigny Opera House.

The New Orleans Fringe Festival will present shows at the Marigny Opera House Friday evening after Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Ethel Julien removed a temporary injunction imposed by the City of New Orleans Wednesday.

Permit issues over use of the Marigny Opera House arose last week when the city considered permit requests for the wedding of Solange Knowles, which took place Sunday at the Marigny venue and was covered by media around the world. Wedding planners for the event had wanted to close down the street in front of the church, a move which typically requires a special-use permit. It's unclear what permits were applied for, granted or rejected regarding the Knowles wedding.

City officials, including Scott Hutcheson, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's advisor on the cultural economy, have not responded to multiple requests for comment from Gambit.

Marigny Opera House director Dave Hurlbert says he secures mayoralty permits for every event he presents at the Marigny Opera House, and currently holds a mayoralty permit good through the end of 2014. He says he was told by officials in the New Orleans City Council District C office (which was then led by former Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer) that it was a sufficient permit. Hurlbert also says he confirmed that status with Hutcheson. 

Most events at the Marigny Opera House are not entertainment events (rehearsals, mediation meetings) and comprise fewer than 40 people, but he has not had any other recent permit issues, Hurlbert says.

Fringe Festival Director Kristen Evans says she learned last week that the festival needed to apply for a special use permit for the 2014 festival. She says she filed the special-use application, and Alison Gavrell of the city's Office of Cultural Economy advised her last week to look for another venue. City officials told Fringe early this week the application was denied. Shortly thereafter, the Fringe Festival filed for an injunction to keep the city from prohibiting use of the Marigny Opera House, and the city filed an injunction to close it.

At 11 a.m. Nov. 19, a group of more than 10 city officials, including city and state fire marshals, Safety and Permits Director Jared Munster and other representatives visited the Marigny Opera House and did a walkthrough of the building with Hurlbert, Hurlbert says. That afternoon, in Civil District Court, Judge Piper Griffin directed the city to provide the Marigny Opera House with a list of improvements necessary to open the venue for events. Citing public safety concerns, Judge Griffin issued a temporary injunction, which was dissolved this morning by Julien.

Julien set a court date of Dec. 3 and directed the New Orleans Fire Department and Safety and Permits to work with the Marigny Opera House to devise a list of improvements necessary at the Marigny Opera House, Hurlbert says.

He says the city signed off two weeks ago on building permits for the Marigny Opera House to build a new handicapped entrance on the side of the building, adding that nothing about the building has been substantially altered since it was constructed more than 160 years ago. He presented Julien with a report prepared by a structural engineer on the soundness of the building. 

There are other events scheduled at the Marigny Opera House in coming weeks, but the status of those events is in limbo as Hurlbert waits to hear from city officials.

"It's still unclear what we need to do to get proper permission," Hurlbert says. "I'm trying to clarify that with the city."

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