Less than two months ago, the weeds in the vacant corner lot at Foucher and South Saratoga streets came to the shoulders of the police officers who gathered there for an anti-crime march held in response to one of the recent shooting deaths in the area.
Today, the overgrowth is gone, replaced by construction workers preparing the site for a collection of new and renovated homes that will be placed on the market early next year for approximately $2 million.
The developer of the property, Bo Pennington, and long-suffering neighbors hope the houses will transform one of Uptown’s most violent spots.
The corner of Foucher and Saratoga has had an eventful life in recent years. In 2011, a ramshackle home there was at the top of the neighborhood’s list of neglected properties because it was a danger to passersby and a magnet for crime. The very night before the city was scheduled to tear it down, the house collapsed on its own.
After the debris was removed, the violence did not abate, however. This year alone, four people have been killed within sight of the corner. Two women were shot to death and a man was injured in March. Another man was shot and killed and a passerby injured in September. And a woman was found dead of a gunshot wound in a car that crashed at the corner earlier this month.
Through it all, some neighbors have pleaded with police for more enforcement, holding multiple events and anti-crime marches at the corner. They also have mobilized to engage the immediate neighbors, adding anti-crime cameras and organizing a recent health fair as a method of outreach.
On Tuesday, less than two weeks after the most recent homicide, the Delachaise Neighborhood Association finally had a different topic to discuss: the beginning of the development of six houses surrounding the corner by Pennington of Pentek Homes.
The project will proceed in two phases, Pennington said. First, two new homes will be built on the vacant lot. Then two existing homes at the same intersection — 2039 Foucher and 3523 S. Saratoga — will be renovated and sold. In a second phase, the company will build two more new homes in the 3600 block of South Saratoga.
The first homes should be ready for sale by February, Pennington said. A flier for the new houses being built on the lot asks $429,000 for each of them — 2,100 square feet, three bedrooms, 2.5 baths with off-street parking.
The design will include numerous New Orleans architectural features, Pennington said, including floor-to-ceiling windows in the front.
“It’s a traditional, New Orleans cottage house,” Pennington told the neighborhood association. “It’s going to feel like New Orleans, but new.”
Pennington also plans to install four cameras pointed down each street of the intersection as soon as his second temporary power pole goes up. Those, he said, should bring an immediate reduction in the criminal activity that neighbors have long complained of around the intersection.
“I think having those cameras there is going to deter a lot,” he said. “I think halfway through this project, the signal’s going to be out, and by the time it’s time to sell these homes, I think it’s going to be a safe neighborhood.”
Some neighbors wonder if the prices and the overall project are too ambitious for a corner with such a checkered history, but Pennington said they are realistic. The average home sales in the 70115 ZIP code are around $220 to $240 per square foot, while he is seeking closer to $200, he said. The neighborhood is surrounded by traditional draws, such as St. Charles Avenue and the Mardi Gras parade route, as well as other up-and-coming areas, like the Freret and O.C. Haley corridors.
“To have someone come in and start and concentrate development right there, it’s really going to change this part of our neighborhood,” said Kimberly Hymel, who leads the association’s anti-blight task force.