NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – Retired Army Major Tracy Riley is in love with New Orleans. The Mississippi transplant graduated from Dillard University and moved back after being away for twelve years with the dream of becoming a business owner.
“I even named the business before I saw the building,” exclaims Riley.
The red 16,000 square foot building at 300 Decatur Street seemed like a perfect home for her concept The Rouge House.
“Over the years I’ve thought of this concept of taking independent artists off the streets and giving them the resources that they need to really hone in on their crafts without being taken advantage of,” explains Riley.
Her vision included a recording studio, an internet radio station and a restaurant where artists could entertain crowds, but months after opening Riley says she has been forced to close her doors.
Although Riley was able to get an alcohol permit from the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana denied their license saying she was operating without a valid permit and failed to provide information. The denial from the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control came after receiving a letter from the French Quarter Business Association urging the state to oppose the permit.
Riley feels the resistance is because she is not wanted there.
“The only thing that I see that is different between me and the people within this particular strip is the color of my skin, is the fact that I’m a female, and the fact that I’m a disabled veteran,” says Riley.
Robert Watters with the French Quarter Management District says racism is not behind the resistance. He says when the Rouge House opened they were a nightclub in an area zoned for a supper club. Riley believes it all comes back to the color of skin, saying there are only a handful of African-American business owners in the French Quarter.
“Racism and discrimination and hate crimes are being committed, not the way that we’re familiar with through physical harm, but it’s harmful nonetheless when it relates to our business,” says Riley.
Currently, Tracy Riley doesn’t have access to the building. The landlord is attempting to take it back because she hasn’t been able to pay rent in months. Riley expects to see the state in court.