The four-story building in which the fire originated is owned by New Orleans developer and retailer Mike Motwani through his real estate company Quarter Holdings LLC. Motwani could not be reached for comment at his Magnolia Enterprises office, which operates T-shirt and souvenir shops. Quarter Holdings owns a total of 16 properties in the French Quarter and Central Business District, including seven on Canal Street.In other words.. and at the very least.. Gee what a swell landlord Mike Motwani is! But also what a great neighbor he has been.
"The key to not having a fire turn into a tragic fire like this is to have an alarm system, commercial buildings particularly," McConnell said. "Having an alarm system that would have reported something like this in its incipient phase would have made a huge difference for these buildings. Unfortunately, we know it burned for an hour and a half before we were called to the scene.
"I think every building should have a fire alarm in it. Whether you can pass legislation to do that or not, I don't know. But, to me, if you're a business owner and you're not putting an alarm in that's going to report that fire and get it to us early, you're putting your livelihood at risk."
Over the years, Motwani has often tangled with city officials. A 2008 Times-Picayune story described him as “the man whom local preservationists, city regulators and even economic development gurus love to hate.”The tastefulness of Motwani's businesses is a subjective and complicated question, of course. But the neglect of his buildings is a different matter. The safety hazard alone is pretty well evident. It's a significant thing, too, since his many holdings constitute Motwanivania, one of the major NOligarchies we keep track of here on our downtown map.
Among other reasons, the article cited Motwani’s “repeated flouting of government regulations, his failure to maintain some of his buildings and his gobbling up of Canal Street properties to open cut-rate stores that impede efforts to upgrade Canal as a shopping destination.”
Motwani owns a number of T-shirt and gift shops and is a controversial figure in and around the French Quarter, partly because of his penchant for such types of businesses but also because he often has flouted development restrictions. Some of his buildings are occupied on the ground floors by liquor stores and shops geared toward tourists, while upper floors are vacant or used only for storage.
Motwani's territory overlaps with Sidney Torres's French Quarter private policing zone. (Mr. Torres is currently somewhat out of favor in his own realm. But this is only Act II of that particular Shakespearean history.)
Speaking of which, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are more plot twists to come in the drama of the Motwanivania fire. There may, for example, be more to this than meets the eye.