Where commerce takes cues from nature
In a city where land available for commercial development is scarce, it is refreshing to see a strip of green space not only preserved, but transformed into a magnet for new activity, which is what is happening along the corridor that stretches from New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood through Mid-City.
The former railroad right-of-way now known as Lafitte Greenway is slowly becoming an oasis of outdoor fun and relaxation thanks to a 2.6-mile bicycle path, with playgrounds and pedestrian-friendly features that have taken shape there. Since the corridor’s opening in 2015, about 320,000 cyclists and pedestrians access the greenway annually, according to automated people counters monitored by local researchers.
Now, developers who recognize the growing appeal of the green space have begun re-purposing adjacent sites and renovating ramshackle structures into new housing, cafés and bars, with plans to make the Greenway a place where people will routinely come for a refreshing break in the heart of a bustling city.
This month, the first apartments in a neighboring 382-unit housing complex will open to renters. The Edwards Communities, the Ohio-based developer of the $65 million Mid-City complex, plan a three-phase opening over the next few years, starting with 120 units this summer. An Edwards spokeswoman says the complex aims to attract young professional renters who like the idea of living near the Lafitte Greenway.
A block away from those apartments stands a higher-end residential development that’s also nearing completion. Dubbed the 37 HUNDRED, it consists of 20 two-story luxury townhouses built atop garages, and it touts a range of features that include its location “only steps” away from the Lafitte Greenway.
These new Mid-City housing choices join a number of other amenities that have taken shape along the periphery of the green corridor. One of the first commercial entrants was the Hey Coffee Co., a café and roasting operation at the edge of Treme, opened by owners of the Hey Café on Magazine Street. Proprietor Tommy LeBlanc says both shops emphasize environmental sustainability by minimizing material waste and garbage headed for landfills. The Mid-City location opened in a building that was renovated by Green Coast Enterprises, a real estate developer that focuses on community renewal.
More recently, the Greenway got a boost from the opening of a stylish beer garden called Wrong Iron, a concept from owners of The Bulldog bar and the Velvet Cactus restaurant. The 5,000-square-foot Mid-City establishment resembles a vintage rail station and offers dozens of beers, cocktails and wines complemented by food trucks that serve the area. The large, dog-friendly patio provides views directly onto the Lafitte Greenway and has 60 bike parking spaces nearby.
Meanwhile, plans have solidified for a new micro-brewery with live entertainment on Lafitte Avenue near Broad Street and the Broad Theater. Scott Wood, who also owns the popular Uptown eatery Turkey and the Wolf, looks to open not only a tap room, but a restaurant with full bar that will complement the growing range of activity on the greenway. His Courtyard Brewery is slated to open in the spring of 2020.
Sophie Vorhoff, executive director of the nonprofit organization Friends of Lafitte Greenway, says the amount of commercial and residential development along the greenway in less than four years since its opening is encouraging for those who have advocated for a green and sustainable corridor that serves the needs of its neighbors.
“It’s exciting to see projects that bring more use and energy to the trail and that embrace the greenway,” she says. “We want to see it continue to develop into a healthy and vibrant public space that connects people to one another and to the neighborhoods all along the corridor.”