Dixie Brewery’s future uncertain

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The battle over the old Dixie Brewery site has reached a tipping point as the Department of Veterans Affairs moves closer to at least partial demolition and renovation of the historic building standing in the path of a medical complex development.

The brewery’s former owners, Joe and Kendra Bruno, have filed several lawsuits claiming the state violated their constitutional rights when it invoked eminent domain in 2011 to take the brewery and then transfer its property rights a year later to the VA. But their cases have lingered in state court for years without resolution.

As construction progresses, the Brunos have filed a request for a preliminary injunction to stop the VA from demolishing any part of the 106-year-old building until previous claims are settled.

“Everyone I know supports the Veterans hospital including Dixie; they just want the state to treat them fairly,” said Robert Evans, the Brunos’ attorney.

LSU declined to comment and its Baton Rouge law firm, Roedel Parsons Koch Blache Balhoff & McCollister, did not respond to interview requests.

The VA also declined to comment, but spokeswoman Amanda Jones refuted Evans’ claim that they plan to demolish the old brewery.

According to the VA’s redevelopment plan, it plans to use the building for its psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery center and construct a new facility behind it to house its research laboratories. Portions of the brewery will have to be demolished due to damage sustained during Hurricane Katrina, the plan shows.

“The final design preserves and repairs the six- and four-story sections of Dixie Brewery that face Tulane Avenue, while behind rises the new five-story building, clad in masonry panels to echo the brick of the historic building,” the plan states.

The brewery’s industrial brick building was designed by German architect Louis Lehle and completed in 1907. A wooden extension was added in 1919 followed by several warehouses behind the main building.

Dixie continued to produce beer until Hurricane Katrina, when the brewery was inundated with more than 10 feet of floodwaters after which the building fell into ruins and became a haven for squatters.

Dixie moved its production facilities to Wisconsin while the owners worked on plans to convert the brewery into an entertainment complex with a beer garden and apartments. But, they struggled to find people willing to invest as the LSU/VA medical complex loomed.

LSU was charged with expropriating 34 acres of land to clear a path for the construction of the VA hospital. Dixie Brewery was not included in the original footprint as detailed in a 2007 plan but was added three years later at which time LSU filed a petition to expropriate the facility.

Dixie is challenging the state’s expropriation of the property because the owners say it did not offer them fair market value as is required by law.

The state assessed the brewery at $52,285 and deposited that amount with the registry of the court, instead of giving it directly to the Brunos, because there was a lien on the property. Evans said the real value of the brewery was $9 million but the state low-balled his clients because there was a $413,343 tax abatement against the property and significant damage to the building.

However, the state Constitution requires that the Brunos be paid just compensation which includes the value of the land and the loss of development rights and business opportunities, Evans said.

“The state argues (the Brunos) can’t develop the property because it will cost too much but if they can do it we can do it.”

Evans also said the state’s appraisal of the Dixie Brewery was manipulated through actions taken by the city.

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