When the Morreale family built the Tulane Industrial Laundry back in the 1940s, the area surrounding the business at St. Louis and North Dorgenois streets was largely industrial and commercial.
The giant pumping station on North Broad and a Schwegmann’s supermarket anchored the area, where plumbing supply warehouses and auto repair shops mingled.
After 10 years of vacancy following Hurricane Katrina, the old laundry building is on the brink of a new life as a mixed-use development featuring commercial space on the ground floor and 12 apartments above, thanks to a multimillion-dollar project by GCE Green Development.
Principals Will Bradshaw, Lex Kelso and Ramsey Green took on the rehab of the 32,000-square-foot concrete structure after renovating a row of shotgun doubles on Bienville Street nearby and witnessing a Mid-City renaissance catalyzed by the completion of the Lafitte Greenway that connects nine neighborhoods over its 3-mile run.
“The city took the risk and made the down payment by developing the Greenway,” said Green. “It’s what made the Whole Foods (where Schwegmann’s used to be) and the Broad Theater (a former plumbing warehouse and boxing gym) possible.”
The three partners, whose projects include the Pythian on Loyola Avenue in the Central Business District, bought the property at 2606 St. Louis St., the Tulane Industrial Laundry Inc., in July 2015 for $749,000. By the time the building opens to residents in about two months, the team will have spent close to $3 million in additional funds to build out 12 one-bedroom apartments on the second floor of the three-building complex, as well as three retail spaces on the ground floor.
“Because we were using both state and federal historic rehab tax credits to finance the project, we maintained the appearance of the exterior,” said Green. “Inside, one of the most appealing design elements is the structural steel beams you see everywhere. You can tell that this was originally an industrial building, even though its use is now residential.”
The development team worked with engineer Mark Harmon, landscape architect Dan Johnson, of GreenMan Dan, and architect Chris Westerman, of CCWIV, on the project, which involved finding a way to successfully connect the complex of three buildings. Another challenge had to do with the project’s storm water management plan.
“The problem with our site was that the building completely covers the lot,” said Green. “It seemed impossible to find a way to retain enough water.”
But an old-fashioned device suddenly became 21st century when the idea was introduced of using cisterns to collect rain. Now two 2,400-gallon tanks on the terrace and two 1,500-gallon tanks in the parking area on the first floor will combine with French drains and landscaping to hold enough water to exceed the amount required by the city.
Solving the storm water retention issue caused a delay in the project, but it wasn’t the only setback. A tornado that touched down briefly in the Treme and Mid-City areas in August 2016 “landed right in the middle” of the site, causing two walls to cave in. And tax credit financing through First NBC fell apart after the bank was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Nonetheless, workers were applying paint to interior walls and installing cabinets this week to prepare for Renovator's Happy Hour, a Preservation Resource Center event on site Thursday evening.
The 12 market-rate apartments range in size from 700 square feet to 900 square feet and offer what Green calls spectacular views of the downtown skyline and the Lafitte Greenway. Each apartment comes with a dedicated parking space and many have balconies. And of course, the building is fully equipped with bike racks.
Said Green, “Because the apartments were developed with the Greenway as the backyard, you can hop on your bike and get to Bayou St. John or the French Quarter without ever getting in a car.”