I’m a Preservationist: an interview Louisiana State Representative Alonzo Knox

This story appeared in the October/November issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!


I’m a Preservationist

Alonzo Knox
Louisiana State Representative, District 93


In the last legislative session, you secured $750,000 for repairs to the historic buildings in Armstrong Park, tapping the Preservation Resource Center to do this work. Why was this an important part of your legislative agenda?

I knew firsthand about the PRC’s efforts to stabilize the historic buildings in Armstrong Park back in December. However, they were short on funds to complete the work. As a resident of the historic Tremé neighborhood, preserving our culture and historic built environment was central to my legislative agenda. I look at preservation as an economic tool that will undoubtedly weave the stories of these buildings back into the tapestry of commerce and culture in New Orleans. This work will have a lasting impact, not just for today’s generation but for the generations yet to come, ensuring that the vibrant traditions of the city continue to thrive.


What do those buildings represent to you?

The Tremé neighborhood has suffered so much due to political whims disguised in the name of progress that threatened to erase the rich history and traditions that make the Tremé community so unique. Supporting the renovations of these historic buildings represent a testament to the enduring spirit of the passion, artistry and craftsmanship of the people who labored to leave behind a unique legacy of New Orleans and Louisiana architecture.


Your district includes the French Quarter, the Central Business District, the Warehouse District and Tremé, essentially the historic core of the city. What are your constituents telling you are the biggest issues facing these historic neighborhoods?

My constituents’ most significant issues, specific concerns and priorities vary widely from one historic neighborhood to another. For example, Marigny constituents are more concerned with reigning in short-term rentals. Central City grapples with the effects of gentrification, rising property values, displacement of longtime residents, and changes in the neighborhood’s character. Likewise, Tremé has a rich cultural heritage, and residents often strive to preserve and promote their unique traditions, cultural institutions and festivals, while being concerned about the lack of affordable housing and displacement of longtime residents. Ensuring the safety of residents is a fundamental concern for the 7th Ward, the Central Business District and the Warehouse District constituents. These residents often advocate for community development initiatives that promote economic opportunities, job creation and improved neighborhood amenities. The Lower Garden District and French Quarter constituents are more concerned about overall quality of life and infrastructure improvements, and ensuring the preservation and restoration of historic buildings and landmarks is often a top concern. For French Quarter residents, this includes following the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) rules in maintaining architectural integrity and preventing the deterioration of historic structures. As the representative, I have to recognize that issues are nuanced and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing them.


You are a longtime resident of Tremé, as well as a business owner with your wife, Jessica (a past PRC board member), of Backatown Coffee Parlour. How have you seen the neighborhood change in recent years?

My wife Jessica and I are both preservationists. In recent years, the community has suffered from the lack of affordable housing due to gentrification and the influx of short-term rentals. The number of families with small children has diminished. Likewise, I am noticing a loosening of enforcement of Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC) rules, which concerns me as a former HDLC Commissioner. Tremé, like many historic neighborhoods, faces challenges in preserving its architectural and cultural heritage. I believe efforts to protect and restore historic buildings and landmarks can help maintain the neighborhood’s unique character while spurring economic opportunities.


What do you love most about Tremé and what are the things you hope to improve as a legislator and local proprietor?

What I love most about the Tremé neighborhood is the people. My neighbors are culture bearers, reflecting the history, traditions, and essence of New Orleans and Louisiana’s unique, vibrant culture. As a legislator and local proprietor, I aim to create a balanced, inclusive community that honors its past while looking toward a sustainable and prosperous future. That’s why I co-authored the extension for historic tax credits, supported legislation to increase fines for blighted property, increased law enforcement and first responders’ pay, and increased security patrols to address quality-of-life concerns. I am excited and look forward to the next legislative session so that I can help build upon our successes. District 93 is the historic core of the city and the economic engine of the entire state. It is the best model of a preservation economy that can coexist with the business and cultural economies.


What does historic preservation mean to you?

Historic preservation means respecting and celebrating the past while embracing the value it brings to our present and future. I firmly believe in the moral and economic benefit of preserving our heritage and strengthening our communities. The revitalization of the historic buildings of Armstrong Park in historic Tremé and the support for Perseverance Hall in the 7th Ward stand as testaments to our commitment to safeguarding our past while building a vibrant future. By partnering with organizations like the Preservation Resource Center, we ensure that our cultural legacies and neighborhoods flourish. Together, we’re restoring buildings and revitalizing the essence of our historic neighborhoods, city, and state.


Tremé Fest is coming up this month. What do you love most about the festival?

Tremé Fest holds a special place in my heart because it feels like a huge family reunion that brings our community together. With incredible local talent and culture on display under the beautiful weather, it’s more than just a party; it’s a sincere way of giving back to our community. The fact that most of the proceeds support our beloved St. Augustine Church makes it even more meaningful.