051519 Federal City

Algiers’ Federal City development board has new potential developers for 20 acres of the 200-acre former naval base. After several false starts, The Finch Group and B-T+MSG, a consortium, are talking about new residential and commercial development, including possibly converting one of the site’s 14 historic buildings into a hotel.

The Algiers Development District board of commissioners said Tuesday it has started talks with two companies about redeveloping 20 acres on its 200-acre Federal City site, the former naval base that has a history of failed efforts with private developers.

The board said it had entered into exclusive negotiations with two property groups — B-T+MSG and the Finch Group — about their proposals to build a mixed-use commercial and housing development, a project that will cost "well over $100 million," according to state Sen. Troy Carter, the board's chairman.

B-T+MSG is a consortium comprising two Shreveport-based builders — Wayne Brown of Brown Builders Inc. and Edward Taylor of Fairfield Property Management — together with Metro Services Group, the New Orleans waste management and redevelopment company run by Jimmie Woods.

The Finch Group is based in Boca Raton, Florida, and specializes in government-assisted and affordable housing, hospitality and commercial property developments.

The Algiers Development District board in January asked for project proposals from prospective developers. The move revived development plans that had been stalled following a lengthy legal dispute with a previous master developer, Vista Louisiana LLC.

"The problem we had in the past, under previous leadership, was that the process netted us someone that unfortunately didn’t have finances strong enough to do the job," Carter said. "We wanted to make sure that didn't happen again."

The site was turned over to the district authority more than a decade ago when the Navy base was shuttered. The state provided a $150 million grant to kick-start redevelopment.

Federal City is still home to 2,000 Marines at the Marine Corps Forces Reserve Headquarters, as well as the New Orleans Police Department’s 4th District headquarters and the New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy charter school.

According to Carter, officials hope that those entities will form the basis for the development of a "law enforcement hub" in the district. The FBI, NOPD, Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control and others have expressed interest in moving offices there, he said.

There has been success also with medical and educational tenants, with LSU's Health Fitness Center located on the site. This Friday, Delgado Community College will break ground on a 35,000-square-foot "Center of Excellence" facility that has been partly funded by a $13 million grant from the state.

But the private development component has proved troublesome. Vista was the second master developer on the project. The first, HRI/EEC, bowed out in 2014. The site had originally been envisioned as a much more ambitious development covering more than 60 acres.

When Carter took over as chairman of the ADD in 2016, he sought to sever the relationship with Vista due to what he said was a lack of transparency and inadequate finances. That led to a prolonged court case in which Vista countered that it hadn't been made aware in advance of lead and asbestos on the site and demanded compensation.

The case was settled out of court last year.

Details of the scaled-back 20-acre development are still to be hammered out, but a riverside hotel, possibly converting one of the 14 buildings on the site categorized as historic, as well as retail and housing — including a component of affordable housing — were part of the winning presentations made to the board and its architectural, finance and development committees last month.

The Finch Group, which started in Boston in the 1980s, impressed board members with its history of developments in Cleveland, where it turned around a notoriously distressed housing project, Longwood Apartments, into a fully rehabilitated residential development called Arbor Park Villas. It also renovated historic buildings there around the University Circle area.

As in Cleveland, Finch has partnered with local construction firms for its Federal City bid.

New Orleans is "a city where we want to develop the same sort of reputation we did in Cleveland," said Blake Bendett, an executive vice president at Finch.

In a statement, the ADD board said it wants to move ahead quickly on finalizing plans for the 20 acres.

"The promise of Federal City has been a delayed one, but I'm so pleased to announce that delay has shortened," said Carter.


Follow Anthony McAuley on Twitter, @AnthonyMcAuley2.