New Orleans businessman Sidney Torres IV has purchased the former Carmelite Monastery on the edge of the French Quarter and plans to develop the walled complex into a mix of residential and commercial uses.
The site covers nearly an entire city block bounded by North Rampart, Barracks, Burgundy and Gov. Nicholls streets.
Torres made his successful bid with the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the property late last year. The deal closed Tuesday.
He declined to say how much he bid for the site, citing a non-disclosure agreement. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese confirmed the sale but otherwise declined comment.
The site, which is surrounded by a nearly 20-foot wall, includes a church, courtyards and four homes, plus a parking lot across Rampart.
Torres said he believes it is the largest plot of land privately sold in the historic neighborhood in years.
The complex was designed by architect James Freret and dedicated in 1895.
It was home to members of the Discalced Carmelite order, which was established in 1593. The nuns were cloistered in the monastery, which at one time featured gardens, a refectory and an infirmary, he said.
“Discalced” meant they did not wear shoes, only sandals.
He said the former church could be redeveloped as a retail building similar to the St. Roch Market and also could be available for hosting special events or ceremonies.
“We believe the archdiocese selected our bid because we share a desire that this once grand complex should be put back into regular use,” Torres said. “I will do that in a way that complements the neighborhood, is consistent with the history of the buildings and makes the historic structure beautiful and useful again.”
Torres said he plans to move quickly to develop the site — a proposition that’s attractive due in large part to the availability of federal and state historic preservation tax credits. Together, those tax breaks can cover up to 45 percent of construction costs and fees.
Another advantage is the expected opening this year of the North Rampart streetcar line, he said.
Though nothing is set in stone, Torres said that if he creates apartments at the site, the prospect of living there may be appealing to people at or nearing retirement age because of the security provided by the wall, as well as the site’s courtyards and green space, plus its proximity to the French Quarter and Central Business District.
“So many people move to Mandeville or Covington for a retirement home, and a lot of people do that because they feel like it’s more affordable,” he said. “I think we can do the same thing here ... without labeling it as a retirement home but having it as something that elderly people feel comfortable living there because it’s so secure with the walls.”
The site most recently housed the Center of Jesus the Lord, which moved Uptown to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church within the past six months.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.