Katrina sparked a commercial comeback
The irony that lies in the rebound New Orleans has mustered during the past decade has become the stuff of platitudes. People here are “incredibly resilient,” observers are fond of saying. This city didn’t amass 300 years of history by collapsing in the face of catastrophe, others note.
OK, the clichés do contain nuggets of truth. But much of the comeback New Orleans has managed since disaster struck the city in 2005 stems from palpable economic factors, including an influx of money and people.
Yes, money and traffic flowed out of the city in the aftermath of the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina. Tens of thousands of people left town, and for some time the danger seemed real that most would not return and few would reinvest in New Orleans.
But as billions of dollars in federal aid began flowing into the city, something unexpected also occurred: Folks from far outside Louisiana began to realize that New Orleans was worth saving. Young people started moving into the city, first to help with the recovery, but eventually to take long-term jobs, buy houses and start families.
Just as important, people with money smelled opportunity in the Big Easy. As engineers and construction crews undertook massive flood-protection projects that helped restore confidence in public safety, real estate developers scouted commercial construction opportunities and found them just about everywhere.
The volume of commercial construction that has occurred in New Orleans since 2006 would have been hard for most people to fathom in the years before Katrina. Here is a look at just a few of the projects that now dot the local landscape:
South Market District
Developer: The Domain Cos.
The speed with which this $200 million development took shape in a four-block area of downtown was as impressive as the concept itself. In just two years, the developers have already transformed an area previously occupied by underused buildings and parking lots into a hub of residential and retail activity linking the Central Business and Warehouse Districts, and taking advantage of the public transportation afforded by a growing streetcar line.
Bounded by Loyola Avenue and Baronne Street, between Julia and Lafayette streets, South Market District combines luxury apartments, a parking garage and 200,000 square feet of retail space that now house a Rouse’s Grocery, four restaurants, a bakery and the first Louisiana location of upscale furniture company Arhaus. Two apartment buildings, the Park and the Paramount, are filling up as a third, the Beacon, gets under way. Plans for the project call for a total of 700 apartments, more shops, restaurants and a hotel that will transform the former Barnett’s Furniture Building.
Developer: Stirling Properties LLC
Once the site of blighted buildings, including an abandoned car dealership and strip shopping center, the six-acre tract at the corner of North Carrollton Avenue and Bienville Street got a $30 million makeover after Katrina and today bustles with retail activity.
A 100-square-foot Winn-Dixie grocery anchors the complex, which also houses an Office Depot; Jefferson Feed Pet & Garden Center; Pei Wei Asian Diner; Panera Bread; Pizza Hut; Ochsner Urgent Care Clinic; Five Guys Burgers and Fries; Felipe’s Taqueria; and more. The developers worked with neighborhood groups and the city to help ensure the project complements the nearby Lafitte Greenway. The successful redevelopment of this site helped spark the explosion of restaurants and other retail activity that has occurred since 2005 along Carrollton Avenue near Canal Street.
Tulane Avenue Corridor
Developers: The Domain Cos., HRI Properties, JCH Development and others
A true transformation of this long-troubled corridor may still lie in the distance, but anticipation of the completion of a new University Medical Center and Veterans Administration hospital on a sprawling neighboring complex helped spark a redevelopment surge that has turned many old buildings in this area into modern apartments that will support a long-term revitalization.
Along with the Crescent Club, the Preserve, The Meridian and Gold Seal Lofts, which together house some 500 apartments and street-front retail, the area features the Blue Plate Artist Lofts in the former home of Blue Plate Mayonnaise; the Falstaff Apartments and Dorgenois Lofts in a former Falstaff Brewhouse; the Fountainbleau Apartments; and the senior-living units Terraces on Tulane.
Developer: Stirling Properties and JCH Development
The southeast corner of South Claiborne Avenue and Toledano Street has become a retail hub with a $25 million remake of a site that included a portion of the former C.J. Peete housing complex. The spiffy new shopping area today includes a T.J. Maxx, Ross Dress for Less, Michaels, PetSmart, Shoe Carnival, ULTA Beauty, Raising Cane’s, Subway and other tenants. The center is fully occupied and serves, among other customers, residents of the nearby 460-unit residential redevelopment called Harmony Oaks.
More Developments of Note
St. Roch Market
This beautifully restored commercial centerpiece on St. Claude Avenue now offers fresh local produce, sundries and prepared foods from a lineup of talented chefs.
Circle Food Store
Owner Dwayne Boudreaux reopened the landmark 7th Ward grocery in early 2014, and now offers a full lineup of grocery items at the corner of North Claiborne and St. Bernard avenues.
Still to come
Local businessman Sidney Torres IV recently bought nine acres of underused land near Bayou St. John in Mid-City, with development plans said to include apartments and retail offerings.