A 20-yard stretch of canal on Veterans Memorial Boulevard just east of Causeway Boulevard will become home to several lighted fountains and new landscaping, part of a beautification project its originator would like to see replicated throughout Metairie.
The $250,000 project, which will begin in about a month and finish by the end of the year, was the brainchild of Lee Giorgio, who owns the Veterans Boulevard shopping center that is home to a Mellow Mushroom franchise and formerly a Borders bookstore.
It was about 18 months ago that Giorgio began to wonder if the drab canal in front of his restaurant could be transformed from an eyesore into an amenity, and he lightheartedly took his inspiration from fountains like the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
“I started looking up fountains, and it started to come to me that you can do it reasonably,” he said.
After a little research and discussions with other business owners, Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng and the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, private donations were collected and the parish agreed to kick in money it collects from stores and restaurants that use the public right of way for customer parking.
That fund, known officially as the Veterans Commercial Parkway Overlay Zone, is dedicated to beautification projects anyway, and it contributed about $150,000 to the project.
The rest came from donations from businesses and organizations including Jefferson the Beautiful, Jefferson Beautification Inc. and the Jefferson Community Foundation.
Chamber President Todd Murphy said the fountains fit well with the landscaping and sculpture projects that he and others have credited with helping to attract a wave of national chains, including the Bonefish Grill and Panera, to the strip.
The parish’s efforts to spruce up its suburban infrastructure with landscaping and public art inspired Kenner to create its own $28 million beautification plan in the name of economic development.
Giorgio said he doesn’t think it’s coincidental that things picked up along Veterans after the parish invested in aesthetics along the corridor. Those projects, he said, “have helped promote economic development in the area for sure.”
Or, to put it more simply, “You don’t want to put your business in a place that looks like a rathole.”
At a basic economic level, Giorgio said, making things look better increases property values, raises rental rates and generates more tax revenue.
Murphy said that even if such projects aren’t the deciding factor in a business’ decision on where to locate, “it’s certainly more attractive to businesses when it’s clean and nice instead of just ugly canals.”
He also said low taxes and insurance rates increasingly aren’t enough to attract residents, and — just like bike paths and walking trails — enhancing bland and often unsightly corridors is now a key piece of the puzzle of how to make a parish or neighborhood an attractive place to live.
Two-thirds of the cost of the project, Murphy said, will go toward landscaping.
Giorgio said the fountain system will aerate and clean the water.
He said he’s glad the project doesn’t use tax dollars — just user fees that are already set aside for street enhancements.
He hopes businesses and civic groups in other areas might be inspired to band together to put more fountains in canals throughout the parish.
“We’re hoping that it’s not just a one-time thing,” he said. “If this can be a prototype and it comes off nice, we could possibly duplicate it or modify it somewhere else.
“With all the ugly canals we’ve got, maybe we’ve got something we can do for the community.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder