Bell Junior High building in Treme to be converted into affordable artist housing _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The former Bell Junior High School in the Treme Historic District, pictured here in 2013, may soon be converted into artists' lofts and studios. There are several structures on the extended campus including this multi-story turn of the century Gothic building that was once part of St. Josephs Academy. There is also a chapel building dating to the mid-19th century. The message on the sign dates to the summer of 2005.

The board of the Housing Authority of New Orleans voted Tuesday to allow the agency to purchase the former Andrew J. Bell Junior High School from the Orleans Parish School Board and immediately transfer the property to a private developer who will turn the Treme campus into a place for artists and others to live and work.

The school at 1010 N. Galvez St. is in the footprint of the redevelopment of the Iberville housing complex. It is also in the 300-square-block area that is part of the local program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, an effort to revitalize distressed urban areas with mixed-income neighborhoods.

Under the plan, HANO will purchase the property for its appraised value of $1.99 million. It will then transfer the property to ArtSpace Projects Inc., which will pay HANO the full purchase price. The transfer will take place only if ArtSpace provides HANO with the money for the purchase. HANO will essentially act as a middleman in the transaction.

The school is owned by the Orleans Parish School Board, which under state law can transfer property to another government entity at its appraised value without going through a public bid process.

HANO played a similar role in November when it agreed to purchase the George O. Mondy Jr. Elementary School from the OPSB and then shift ownership to a private developer who will turn the school into a senior living facility.

“I’m glad for us to see an opportunity to be a partner with the entire community,” HANO Chairman Dwayne Bernal said.

ArtSpace is proposing to build 79 units of affordable housing at the site. That total will include 19 units that can count toward HANO’s replacement housing under the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative program.

In other matters, HANO is moving forward with a plan to redevelop about 230 scattered sites it owns. The agency is looking to redevelop the vacant lots and structures as a way to generate revenue and rebuild its affordable-housing stock.

The HANO board voted Tuesday to prequalify 20 companies as potential developers for the sites, which include both vacant structures and empty lots varying in size from 1,300 square feet to 158,000 square feet.

Developers were invited in November to submit plans for everything from wholesale redevelopment of multiple sites to specific properties. The request for proposals received 21 responses. All but one have been placed on a list of qualified development partners who will be contacted by HANO for more specific proposals as the agency decides which sites it wants to develop.

Executive Director Gregg Fortner said HANO will introduce a strategy for redeveloping the properties at a meeting of its Development Committee in March. The project is expected to span several years.

The companies that have been prequalified are: CCNO Development LLC; Chartres Street Station LLC; Columbia Residential; Deep Roots Development; ETI Inc.; F3 Management/SRF Group Consulting; Gulf Coast Housing Partnership; ITEX Group LLC; JC Patin Group LLC; New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity; New Orleans Redevelopment Fund; Parkcrest Builders; Pentek Homes; Perez APC; Project Homecoming Inc.; Providence Community Housing; REO LLC; Nationwide Real Estate Corp.; Doucette & Associated Contractors; and Urban Focus LLC.