For three decades, the 78-acre PreStressed Concrete site along the Mandeville lakefront has sat idle, a victim of the oil bust of the 1980s and subsequent inertia.
The site’s original reason for being — creating concrete for giant bridges like the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway — ceased to exist in the early 1980s as the economy soured. Then, Old Mandeville became a haven for upscale residential and commercial development.
Since then, the old industrial site has remained stagnant, a brown and gray waste in the midst of bustling Old Mandeville.
But there is a movement afoot to bring it back into commerce. The owners, brothers and physicians Michael and Marc Pittman, have commissioned an architectural firm to hold several charrettes this week and early next week to solicit public input on developing the property.
No site plans have been produced, no designs commissioned, but the firm — Architects Southwest of Lafayette — does have some ideas about what the huge site could become.
Those ideas include a marina, shops, restaurants, a boutique hotel and single and multifamily residences.
Steven Oubre, a principal at Architects Southwest, said the challenge of the site would be helping it blend into the rest of Old Mandeville, where residents at times have been persnickety when it comes to new developments in the area.
Tuesday night, Oubre told several dozen people gathered at the Pontchartrain Yacht Club that his goal would be to retain Mandeville’s “sense of place,” which he said gives the city a unique character.
“You have everything here,” including architecture, the lakefront and amenities, he said. He contrasted Mandeville with cities like Houston and Phoenix.
The marina could hold 150 slips and various types of residential units, including townhomes, cottages and mansions, he said.
Three market studies commissioned by Oubre have concluded that a market exists for each element of his proposal, he said.
Implementing the type of plan he is proposing would help ensure that the essential character of Old Mandeville is protected, he said.
But bringing development to the site will take time. Once the charrettes are completed, any developer — and one has not yet been selected — would have to apply for permits from the city and go through the Planning and Zoning Commission. That likely would take months.
At least one city councilman has questioned whether the owners have the funds for such an ambitious development.
“They are putting the cart before the horse,” Ernest Burguières said, adding that he estimates it could cost as much as $100 million to develop the site.
But Michael Pittman said it was too early to estimate costs when they don’t yet know what a potential development might look like.
“We are trying to get something to put before the city of Mandeville that they will approve,” he said.
When that is accomplished, he said, then he could talk about costs.
Other people at the meeting questioned how many residential units would be in the development, where traffic would flow in and out of the site and how much houses would cost.
The site itself is an emblem of how Mandeville has changed. Built in the 1950s by two construction firms, it was the home of a plant that built the massive concrete blocks that now stretch southward across the lake as parts of the Causeway. Concrete from the plant also was used to build other large bridges, such as one at Dauphin Island near Mobile, Alabama.
But after the plant closed, the site was sold to the Pittman brothers and their father. There was a plan in the 1980s to try to lure Boeing and NASA to build a joint 40-acre project on the site, but that fizzled. Other development plans were proposed but never amounted to anything.
Michael Pittman said the project is really the legacy of his father, Dr. Marcus Pittman Jr., who spearheaded the family’s purchase of the site in the 1980s and wanted to do something that would fit harmoniously in Mandeville.
“All of us live here and would like to do something nice for the community,” he said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.