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It’s Time to Play by New Orleans’ Rules

8 Nov 2013

For many decades, national retailers have deemed New Orleans too poor, too corrupt or too incompetent to be considered a desirable location to set up shop.

New entrepreneurial energy and strong leadership within our economic development, planning, and business agencies have made New Orleans an enticing prospect for outside investment from major retailers once again. Soon, H&M and Tiffany’s will join Panera, Pei Wei, Five Brothers and Costco as recent additions to our market.

Unfortunately, New Orleans’ self-esteem hasn’t yet caught up with our new found desirability as a lucrative market for big name corporations. We’re often too distracted by the attention to ensure their entry into the New Orleans market is a winning proposition not only for their executives and shareholders, but also for the residents and neighborhoods of New Orleans.

And in the flush of excitement about landing another big fish, we often overlook the fact that we may be shoe-horning suburban-style, car-centric development into a very tight urban footprint and getting little in the way of community benefit in return.

Now that it is apparent that New Orleans is a contender on the national commercial scene, developers need to understand that if they’re going to play, they need to play by our rules. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for negotiation, but the days of catering to self-interested investors lured by costly concessions borne by taxpayers, including existing businesses, must come to an end.

New Orleans knows what New Orleans needs and we have done a good job of creating a roadmap (several, actually) to ensure that we not only survive, but thrive come hell or high water (and the high water is pretty much a given). The standards delineated in these roadmaps embody New Orleans’ vision of what it can be at its most vibrant, inclusive, best.

These standards, developed with guidance from experts from around the country and the globe as well as New Orleans citizens, are codified in such documents as:

  • Plan for the 21st Century, New Orleans’ Master Plan
  • Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan
  • Lafitte Greenway and Corridor Revitalization Master Plans
  • Neighborhood Participation Program
  • ProsperityNOLA
  • The soon-to be-released Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance

Fortunately, we have a number of conscientious local developers who understand the importance of these plans and the significance of this moment as we prepare to implement them. Green Coast Enterprises recently renovated a cluster of dilapidated, historic Broadmoor buildings into retail and office space. GCE intentionally recruited local businesses for its retail tenants.

The project includes a community healthcare clinic and the redevelopment of an adjacent warehouse into an energy-efficient co-working space housing over 60 socially-minded start-ups and nonprofits. The space is designed with pervious parking and landscaping designed to capture storm water runoff. A second GCE project underway at 234 Loyola employs the same New Orleans-specific sensibilities. This holistic approach to neighborhood-scaled development that addresses our specific environmental, housing, and economic needs is what must become the norm.

The importance of having the “right developers” engaged at this pivotal moment in New Orleans’ history cannot be overstated. As new developments get underway that are held to the standards laid out in the above documents, we will move from planning into implementation.

We need developers, and, for that matter, elected officials whose enlightened self-interest motivates them to be as committed as we are to implementation of the above plans and who understand that these plans are key to making New Orleans economically and environmentally secure and resilient well into the future.

Dana Eness is the Executive Director of The Urban Conservancy and can be reached at dana@urbanconservancy.org.