The physical outline of downtown New Orleans is not changing that much, but within the structures is a new wine in the old bottles.
Many of the office towers and commercial storefronts are part of a wave of renovation that is focusing on the appeal of the Central Business District as a place to live, not just as a place to work.
It’s not just the hotels, including boutique lines of the major chains, which might be considered the natural renovators of the CBD structures where work is going on. Many places are now targeted as condo renovations, and like the Warehouse District, the buyers are seeking an urban lifestyle that includes more than just access to attractions like the French Quarter, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome or the Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“We’re foreseeing a growing residential base downtown,” said Kurt Weigel, head of the Downtown Development District. “This is not a short-term thing.”
It might be an expensive thing, as many of the residential options downtown are decidedly in the higher-upscale category. At up to $500 per square foot, the urban scene is a booming one, but it is one where there remains a scarcity of units available, driving up prices even as renovations continue.
Rents in the new Paramount, part of the South Market District, are $1,700 for a one-bedroom and go up from there, but the developers say it was leased up in five months.
A new Rouse’s supermarket and other necessities of day-to-day living may be nice amenities for office workers, but they are critical to residents. A similar phenomenon on a smaller scale is being observed in downtown Baton Rouge, where a Matherne’s supermarket provides similar services for new downtown residents.
It is part of a national trend toward living in the urban core of cities, but a trend that was slower to develop in New Orleans because of the storms of 2005 and subsequent levee failures that devastated the city.
Tourism was of course hurt, as well, but that has come back to pre-storm levels, and hoteliers are among those buying and renovating in the downtown area. A $380 million Four Seasons is planned for the former World Trade Center building, one of the bigger development options in the city’s core still remaining in terms of square footage.
The role of state government in the city’s future is very much on the mind of policymakers. The land in front of Mardi Gras World is ripe for large-scale redevelopment, but the giant building that housed the old Charity Hospital is another huge opportunity — also owned by the state, not by the city.
As the marketplace has done such wonders for smaller buildings and plots of land, we believe the state should be a constructive and inventive partner with the city leadership to take advantage of this window of opportunity for expansion of both living and working spaces in the downtown area.