Zulu gets OK to expand headquarters on N. Broad

It looks like the king of Zulu soon will have a more fittingly resplendent throne to come home to when he’s done parading.

On Thursday, the New Orleans City Council removed the last hurdle in front of long-delayed plans to expand the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club’s headquarters on North Broad Street.

By a unanimous vote, the council granted the venerable Carnival krewe a conditional-use permit to renovate its clubhouse and put up a new two-story building next door, clearing the way for a construction project that’s been in the works since at least 2008.

“The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club is quite a gift to our community,” Councilwoman Susan Guidry said. “This indicates that they are expanding, their membership is bursting and they want to do more good things for our community.”

The idea has been through several twists and turns having to do with funding and competing proposals. In fact, the council granted Zulu a nearly identical permit five years ago, but it expired before the group could begin construction.

First, there was confusion over funding. Former Mayor Ray Nagin presented Zulu with a giant-sized check for $800,000 during its annual Lundi Gras celebration in 2010, but when the funding proposal came before the City Council it had morphed into a $400,000 loan.

Then Zulu began exploring other options for acquiring a roomier headquarters.

Last year, the group came close to buying the former Schwegmann’s supermarket a few blocks away on North Broad, but the nonprofit group Broad Community Connections snapped up the building instead.

Zulu President Naaman Stewart said Thursday when he took the helm of the group about a year ago, he was determined to move ahead with plans to expand the existing headquarters at 732 N. Broad.

“Obviously, we needed more space,” he said. “And we thought this could be an enhancement to the neighborhood.”

Stewart said Zulu does in fact have $800,000 for the project, drawing on a city “urban development action grant” of money from the federal government.

He said $400,000 of the money is a grant, while the other half is a loan.

In part, the money will help refurbish a two-story building that already houses a bar, kitchen, offices and conference room.

The rest will go toward a new two-story building on the lot next door, totaling 10,682 square feet. Stewart said the new structure will give Zulu enough space to hold meetings of its entire membership for the first time, and provide a hall for receptions, weddings and other events.

He said the group plans to start construction in the next two or three months, though it will have to keep in mind 14 provisos laid down by the City Planning Commission.

First, Zulu still has to give the commission a finished set of building plans. The design details of those plans also will have to clear the Historic District Landmarks Commission.

In a nod to the community opposition that surfaced the last time Zulu went before the City Council for a permit, the planning commission also is asking to see plans for trash containers or a dumpster that will be “screened from view” with a 6-foot-tall fence, plus a litter abatement program to be approved by the Department of Sanitation.

The last time Zulu asked for permission to expand, nearby residents arrived at the council complaining of rowdy late-night gatherings, blocked driveways and trash strewn around the neighborhood. No opposition surfaced this time.

Other provisos concern the building’s exterior. One calls for a landscaping plan that will need approval from the Planning Commission, another for a 6-foot-tall brick wall between the building’s driveway and residential properties next door. There also will have to be 3 feet of landscaping to act as a buffer between the parking lot and the neighbors.