Home

New Orleans redeveloper opens apartments in Treme

by Deon Roberts Online Editor
The New Orleans City Business

The Treme neighborhood has a new, four-unit apartment complex.

Josh Bruno, president of New Orleans-based Downtown Development Group, today said the project - a $95,000 renovation of a house at 1917 St. Ann St. - opened this week. Three of the units were rented today, he said.

The apartments range in rent from $690 for a one-bedroom, 750-square-foot unit to $800 for a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot unit, he said.

Bruno said when he bought the house about two months ago for $25,000 it was being used as rental property. He estimates the house, which had roof damage because of Hurricane Katrina, is 70 years old.

Bruno said it is the eighth project he’s done in Treme.

It is next to another project of his, St. Ann Square Apartments, a 44-unit development that opened about two months ago. Bruno said it is about 65 percent occupied, with the one- and two-bedroom units rented. Only studio apartments remain available for rent.

A week ago, Bruno opened a Soap-N-Suds laundromat on the first floor of St. Ann Square Apartments. Bruno said he has also opened three Soap-N-Suds in the Miami area.

He said he is interested in buying at least two more nearly buildings in Treme.

Bruno hopes to convince other businesses that the area is safe to invest in. Many people are living in Treme, but there aren’t enough grocery stores or places at which to shop, he said.

New apartment complex opens in Treme

by The Times-Picayune

A New Orleans developer has opened a new four-unit apartment complex in Treme, according to New Orleans Citybusiness.

Josh Bruno, president of the Downtown Development Group, said the four-unit project at 1917 St. Ann St. opened this week. Three of the units have already been rented.

The apartments range in rent from $690 for a one-bedroom, 750-square-foot unit to $800 for a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot unit, he said.

Soap-N-Suds Laundromat – Press Release

Bruno Inc., headed by New Orleans developer Joshua Bruno, has recently opened a brand new Soap-N-Suds Laundromat located at 1937 St. Ann St. on the first floor of the brand new St. Ann Square Apartments. The Laundromat features brand new high speed washer and dryers, granite floors, cable TV, free wireless internet, vending machines, 24hr CCTV Security Cameras, and is open 7 days a week from 7am – 7pm. Has 24 hour access for registered customers. "We at Bruno Inc. are very proud of this new neighborhood business. We’ve hired local residents to run the Laundromat and hope that it shows other small businesses that the Treme is a viable neighborhood for investment."

1917 St Ann – Press Release

Downtown Development Group, headed by New Orleans developer Joshua Bruno, has completed renovation of another historic building in Treme located at 1917 St. Ann St. This four unit structure features 1 and 2 bedroom apartments that have the unique characteristics of the historic area with the modern amenities that are desired in today’s market. These large units feature 14’ ceilings, heart of pine wood floors, granite countertops, and oak cherry cabinets, central air and heat, and gated off street parking. This building has been updated with all modern plumbing and energy efficient electrical systems and has been engineered to be hurricane resistant. This four-plex is adjacent to the newly opened St. Ann Square Apartments and will share all the modern amenities such as CCTV Security cameras, free wireless internet for tenants, and access to the brand new Soap-N-Suds Laundromat that is located at 1937 St. Ann St. This is the eighth property that DDG has developed in the Treme area in the past three years. "Even during these tough economic times we at Metro Wide Apartments and Downtown Development Group are committed to revitalizing these historic neighborhoods that provide modern housing for working families who have a strong desire to return to their family neighborhoods."

Open House Held For Section 8 Tenants

by WDSU.com

ALGIERS, La. — A new community set to open next month in Treme is designed to help people still struggling to rebuild their lives.

For David Jones and his wife, the search for affordable housing in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina hasn’t been easy.

"We’re looking for something nice, reliable with security, somewhere safe," Jones said. "And pets, got to have my dog."

They and others attended an open house at Fischer Senior Community Center in Algiers to learn about Section 8, rental assistance programs and housing vouchers to aid them in their search.

The Downtown Development District has five affordable housing communities in New Orleans, Metairie and Kenner.

"It’s really important for people facing financial hardships with people losing jobs," said Joshua Bruno, of the Downtown Development Group. "They don’t understand there are other places to go to."

"Most rent is $1,400 to $2,500 a month," said Francis Brown, who was looking for affordable housing. "This is what’s being asked of these people. They don’t have the money and don’t have the resource."

Brown was gathering information for her disabled son.

"This is very good for these people," she said. "They need help. They’ve been struggling since Katrina."

Since Katrina, many New Orleanians have yet to return to their neighborhoods and communities.

The Downtown Development Group said affordable housing — for single mothers, families, and those just starting out — is one way to guarantee a happy homecoming long overdue.

"Once they’re at home and moved in, we found them some of the best tenants in New Orleans, because they really appreciate where they live," Bruno said.

St. Ann Square apartments in Treme are scheduled to open Feb. 20.

Developer plans $2M apartment conversion of Treme hotel

by CityBusiness Staff Report

NEW ORLEANS - A New Orleans developer plans to convert a Treme hotel into 40 low- to moderate-income apartments in a $2-million project.

Joshua Bruno, the 27-year-old head of New Orleans-based Downtown Development Group, said he has signed an agreement to buy the 58-unit Rainbow Hotel, 1937 St. Ann St., for $320,000.

Construction on the project, The St. Ann Square Apartments, which will include 40 one-, two- and three-bedroom units, is scheduled to begin in late May.

Completion is expected by September, Bruno said.

Unit sizes start at 600 square feet and will rent for $600 a month. Three-bedroom units at 1,200 square feet will rent for about $975 per month.

First Bank and Trust and Bruno will finance the project.

Project features will include a gated court yard, closed circuit television security surveillance system, green space, gated off-street parking, free wireless Internet, units constructed with hurricane-resistant steel and concrete bracing, energy efficient electrical and plumbing systems and reinforced windows that comply with Dade County, Fla., hurricane codes.

DDG is designing the project. Bruno Inc. will handle construction. Metro-Wide Apartments, another Bruno company, will manage and lease the property.

“St. Ann Square will provide additional affordable housing in the historic Treme area, where there was considerable damage from Hurricane Katrina,” Bruno said. “Hopefully, this project will contribute to the overall redevelopment of this important area adjacent to the French Quarter.”

In addition to the St. Ann Square Apartment units, Metro-Wide will open a neighborhood self-service laundry on St. Ann and North Prieur streets. The company will hire Treme residents to run the laundry and to provide janitorial services for the apartment complex.

Metro-Wide will also start a neighborhood crime watch program in Treme.

Treme apartment complex to open Thursday in New Orleans

by CityBusiness Staff Report

A new apartment complex in Treme is set to have a grand opening Thursday.

New Orleans-based Downtown Development Group redeveloped the former Rainbow Hotel into 44 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Units will rent for $595 for a 600-square-foot apartment and approximately $845 for a two-bedroom, "St. Ann Square will provide additional affordable housing in the historic Treme area where there was considerable damage from Hurricane Katrina," said Joshua Bruno, head of DDG. "These types of developments are urgently needed even more during these tough economic times."

Bruno Inc. handled construction. Metro-Wide Apartments, another Bruno company, will manage and lease the property.

In addition to the apartments, Bruno Inc. will open, at St. Ann and North Prieur streets, Soap-n-Suds Laundromat, which features flat-screen televisions, arcade games and computers with Internet access for customers to use while washing clothes. Bruno said he will hire Treme residents to run the laundromat and provide janitorial services for the apartment complex.

Metro-Wide will also start a neighborhood crime watch program in Treme.

Credit: CityBusiness Staff Reports

A new master plan calls for major changes in Kenner’s Rivertown

 

by Mary Sparacello, The Times-Picayune

Monday December 22, 2008, 7:10 AM

Kenner’s historic Rivertown has never become the destination spot envisioned when it was redeveloped in 1982.

Hopes have always been high for Kenner’s historic Rivertown.

The 16-block area of family-friendly museums and shops opened in 1982 under then-mayor and current Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard. His vision was a destination spot for tourists that would generate money for the city, while at the same time reviving a desolated stretch where the city’s founders first set up shop.

In the past 26 years, each succeeding mayor has tried to find a way to bring more visitors to Rivertown.

Louis Congemi, now a parish councilman, developed Heritage Park and built a planetarium during his eight years as mayor. Phil Capitano developed a popular music series in the park. Current Mayor Ed Muniz expanded the series and commissioned a master plan for the area.

Hopes remain high. But Rivertown, in many ways, is no more a magnet for visitors than when it opened.

"We’ve got to come up with a better attraction for Rivertown — better restaurants, better shops, even better museums, " said Kenner Councilman Marc Johnson, whose district includes the area.

Officials and Rivertown supporters remain optimistic that Muniz’s $53,000 master plan could finally provide the seeds for real change — if money can be located to take the ideas from the pages of the study to the historic south Kenner district.

But Ernesto Cortazar won’t be around to see whether the master plan works.

Lured by the potential in Rivertown, the north Kenner resident opened Cortazar’s Delicatessen in June 2007. But by the end of the year, his store will be out of business.

"I stuck it out as long as I could, but I saw no progress, " he said. "They have so much potential in Rivertown, but they don’t exploit it."

With the nation in recession, Muniz said now is not the time to spend the money on improvements recommended in the master plan.

The plan calls for renovations to the current design of Rivertown to make it more attractive for tourists and locals. But all the plan’s ideas come with a price tag.

"Where’s the money going to come from?" Muniz asked, adding that the city’s sales tax figures are down from last year.

Changing the exhibits and adding new ones are an expensive proposition, Congemi said. During his tenure as mayor, Rivertown saw the most traffic when money was spent to improve the attractions.

"But it faded because we couldn’t continue to invest what we needed to invest, " he said, adding that Rivertown is a quality-of-life investment. "There are some things that are just meant for the public to enjoy rather than become money-makers."

Kenner’s yearly subsidy in Rivertown is about a half-million dollars, city officials have said.


Museum makeovers

The city is applying for a number of state grants, including one for the Native American Museum and one for the Music in the Park concert series. Another grant request is for a study to evaluate the museums and seek ways to improve them.

The master plan recommends consolidating the museums onto a side street and converting the properties that now face Williams Boulevard and Rev. Richard Wilson Drive, formerly Third Street, into profitable retail space.

Successful businesses would attract more visitors and increase the museums’ ticket sales, but current store owners say their businesses depend on museum attendance.

"Because they’re not busy, it makes us not busy, " said Betty Brock, who opened Amour de Cafe in a Rivertown strip mall four months ago. "It’s such a beautiful area. It’s so family-oriented. You don’t have to fight with downtown."

Another issue holding back the museums has been the damage many attractions suffered during Hurricane Katrina. The Saints Hall of Fame, which was one of the area’s most popular museums, is in its second year at its new home in the Superdome, and the Space Station has not reopened. The water-damaged stuffed animals from the Wildlife and Fisheries museum are back from a Florida taxidermist, but they aren’t yet on display.

In addition to consolidating the museums, the master plan recommends developing a farmers market and switching city buildings, such as the old Kenner High School a few blocks away, to commercial use.


‘Overlooked’ area

The plan’s recommendations could be the key to the area’s success.

"I’m hopeful that once we put these particular (suggestions) in place, it will spur the foot traffic and will bring people into Rivertown, " Johnson said. "I think it’s our responsibility as city officials to find a way to make Rivertown more successful."

Gail Yeadon, president of the nonprofit Friends of Rivertown, said she hopes to see some movement on the master plan.

"I’d hate to see money wasted on a study, " she said. "I’d like to see progress."

Yeadon said the museums are high-quality and that there have been forward-looking ideas coming out of Rivertown’s leadership, such as turning the old art gallery into a room people can rent for birthday parties.

Not all the news from Rivertown is bleak. New Orleans developer Joshua Bruno this year renovated a 68-unit assisted-living complex into 45 middle- to upper-income apartments a half-mile down the road.

"Rivertown has really been overlooked for so many years, " Bruno said, showing a reporter around the complex at 1039 Rev. Richard Wilson Drive, with some rooms boasting flat-screen televisions and river views. "Hopefully, this will change people’s expectations about Rivertown."

Bruno said he sees buying opportunities in former homesteads that Louis Armstrong International Airport bought as part of a noise buyout.

"We see a great opportunity with some of the vacant airport buyout land, " Bruno said, adding that the land near the river is the highest in Kenner. "We need to build toward higher ground."

Mary Sparacello can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 504.467.1726.

Veterans Centro

$1.75M apartment complex slated for south Kenner

South Kenner could have a new 45-unit apartment complex by the first quarter of 2008, said a New Orleans developer.

Joshua Bruno, president of Downtown Development Group, said he received permitting two days ago to build Riverview Apartments, a roughly $1.75-million project. <!–more–>

The apartments are slated for 1039 Third St., where an assisted- living facility once operated, Bruno said.

Bruno plans to redevelop the site, which contains four buildings: two that comprised the assisted-living facility and two that housed medical services.

Construction began Tuesday with a crew of 30 people, he said.

Phase One, which will consist of 26 units and office and laundry facilities, should be completed by the middle of January. Phase Two, which will involve 19 to 22 units, should be ready about 30 days after that.

Units will start at 600 square feet and rent for about $730 a month. Luxury units of about 1,200 square feet and featuring larger windows overlooking the Mississippi River will rent for about $1,600 a month.

Bruno described the development as a "middle- upper-income apartment building."

The project will feature lush landscaping valued at around $100,000, he said.

The project will also include a horseshoe court, gated parking, a tetherball court, closed-circuit television surveillance and free high-speed Internet access inside and outside units.

The buildings will also be made more hurricane-resistant, he said.

The number of courtyards will be increased from one to two, he said.

Bruno plans to use Gulf Opportunity Zone incentives to build the project, but he is waiting for approvals. Private project financing will come from First Bank and Trust, he said.

Metrowide Apartments, Bruno’s firm, will manage the complex.

Bruno said he has a vision for South Kenner and plans to acquire more properties for other developments, including mixed-use projects.

"I want this to be the first kickoff of my redevelopment of south Kenner," he said.

There is demand to live in south Kenner, he said.

"It’s high and dry. It’s very close to the metro area. You’re right next to the airport .. right next to the casino."

But one challenge with acquiring more Kenner properties is dealing with multiple family members who often own the same site, he said.

Bruno said he bought the 2-acre site about a month ago for $572,500.

He said his goal is to provide "great housing at a reasonable price."

Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

Kenner renewal

New apartment complex marks first project for new Rivertown

by Ariella Cohen

A 27-year-old real estate developer and former nightclub owner has broken ground on a $1.75-million apartment complex in Kenner’s Rivertown neighborhood, a first sign of progress for Mayor Ed Muniz’s long-brewing plan to create a vibrant downtown in the historic town center.

The 45-unit Riverview Apartments community, which will be gated and include courts for horseshoes and tetherball, will replace an assisted-living facility and hospital at 1039 Third St., well within the borders of the Third Street Corridor mapped for new retail, residential and commercial development by Muniz soon after he took office in 2006.

Riverview is the first of several high-end residential projects planned for South Kenner, said developer Josh Bruno, a Tulane University dropout who got his start as an entrepreneur at Club Ampersand, a nightspot he founded with partner Billy Blatty in the Central Business District of New Orleans.

“I see a demand in South Kenner for higher-end rentals for young professionals who don’t want to live in New Orleans and aren’t ready to buy a home,” said Bruno, who plans to open a Kenner office in the near future.

Bruno’s vision for an upscale, family friendly community coincides with Muniz’s goal to bring new investment to Rivertown, which has struggled to attract investment even though it is a historic district with attractions and elevation above the flood plain.

“New residential development is definitely part of the plan,” said Mike Quigley, deputy chief administrative officer for Kenner. “Rivertown and the (vacant land around the airport) are areas that beg for a redevelopment, (which would) help bring back a tax base the city needs and generate more restaurants and stores for people in the area.”

Just a few blocks from Bruno’s Riverview Apartments sits another site high on the city’s redevelopment radar: the old Kenner High School on Third and Duncan streets, which has been vacant since 1994.

The red brick schoolhouse built in 1924 was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Within several weeks, the city plans to invite developers to propose plans for its commercial redevelopment, Quigley said.

“We are looking to someone to turn the high school into a retail or office development,” he said. The historic designation means any developer who leases the building for commercial use would not be able to change the building’s façade in any significant way, according to federal guidelines.

Bruno, who has expressed interest in the old school building, sees the potential for a population boom in Rivertown.

“It is high ground and there is room to grow and a large population of people who want to live in the area,” he said.

Bruno is not the first to scope Rivertown as a potential hot spot. In 1982, then-Mayor Aaron Brousard funded the creation of eight museums, a park and two theaters in the 16-block commercial district. The new attractions were intended to inject new life and revenue into the aging downtown.

In 2006, a monthly average of 5,501 tickets were sold for Rivertown attractions, earning $16,532, according to the city. Data for 2007 was not available, but museums, subsidized by the city to the tune of $400,000 a year, never made the kind of economic impact sought by city officials, Muniz has said.

His plan includes revenue-generating elements intended to inject some new cash into the district in order to make it less financially dependent on the city, Quigley said.

“We are looking at putting retail in the museum buildings,” Quigley said.•

Complex issue

Kenner’s apartment ban highlights need for multifamily housing, growth plans

by Ariella Cohen

A recently instated one-year moratorium on the construction of developments with five or more apartments in Kenner will not solve conflicts over post-Katrina growth facing the city and does not recognize the region’s need for affordable housing, real estate industry insiders and fair housing advocates say.

The ban on new multifamily housing was unanimously approved April 3 by the Kenner City Council, less than a month after Kenner saw thousands of people line up outside its Housing Authority office to receive federal rental assistance vouchers.

Already, it puts in limbo at least two developments in planning stages and threatens investment in future mixed-income projects, investors say.

“There is clearly a significant demand for affordable housing in Kenner as evidenced by the long line of people who showed up to apply for affordable housing and it concerns me that the government hasn’t recognized that need,” said Mark Madderra, a commissioner for the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency and a real estate investment banker at Madderra & Cazalot.

Madderra, who is also on the New Orleans Apartment Association’s board, hopes Kenner “would be willing to consider the affordable housing needs of its citizens” as it enforces the ordinance over the next year.

The move to block new multifamily housing came after more than a year of debate over the fate of sites that before Katrina housed hundreds of renters, many of whom qualified for federal aid because of low or non-existent incomes.

Homeowners in the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of single-family homes near the 400-unit Redwood Apartment complex at the intersection of West Esplanade Avenue and Williams Boulevard have spoken against the complex’s redevelopment, citing concerns about noise, traffic, safety and strain on area infrastructure. The law is a response to that opposition, said Councilman Joe Stagni.

“We have an abundance of multifamily housing in Kenner and we have a responsibility to study the impacts (of development) on drainage, sewerage and other infrastructure matters before we build more,” Stagni said.

News that the Council’s vote will keep the 15-acre site an open, grassy field for at least another year evoked cheers at Highway Park, a playground around the corner from the vacant lot.

“The less apartments, the better,” said Kenner homeowner Ronnie Grassel as he pushed his 2-year-old daughter in a swing. “I think when you buy a home you don’t want to see those buildings around. It is what it is. Call it prejudice or whatever, but it’s pretty much the opinion of everyone you talk to.”

Fair housing advocates agree prejudice is at work in Kenner, but that is where the similarities end.

“There is a shortage of affordable rental housing in the region and to ban new construction will only worsen that,” said James Perry, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

Kenner tried to pass a similar ordinance in June but didn’t after housing advocates argued against it. Instead, the council asked the University of New Orleans to study the Redwood site.

The study, which found no shortage of multifamily housing in Kenner, recommended the city rezone the site to allow for a mixed-use district of shops, restaurants and mixed-income apartments.

“Mixed-use developments are popular around the country and are now beginning to pop up around Louisiana,” the UNO report said.

Wendell Dufour, director of the University of New Orleans Division of Planning in the Center for Urban and Public Affairs, said he doesn’t believe an all-out ban of multifamily development is the answer to unease about growth in Kenner.

“You hear people say we don’t want any multifamily because there is a perception that (the buildings) automatically translate to Section-8 tenants, crime or other problems,” said Dufour, who is working with city officials on a completing a larger land-use plan for Kenner. “But a lot of the time it is not multifamily housing that is per se the issue, it is landlords that aren’t properly maintaining developments or some tenants that aren’t doing what they should be doing.”

The land-use plan will recommend high-density residential development in the north and western regions of Kenner along Joe Yenni Drive and Vintage Drive near the St. Charles Parish line, Dufour said.

New Orleans developer Josh Bruno is one investor who has had his eye on Kenner. Last month, he broke ground on a $1.75-million apartment complex in Rivertown and announced his interest in working with Kenner Mayor Ed Muniz on his plan to bring new upscale apartments, shops and restaurants to the historic area.

“I see a demand in south Kenner for higher-end rentals for young professionals who don’t want to live in New Orleans and aren’t ready to buy a home,” said Bruno, who has expressed interest to the city about working with officials to redevelop the long-shuttered Kenner High School in Rivertown into a mixed-use anchor of the proposed district. Bruno said that he also has begun planning for a second upscale residential project in the neighborhood.

The new law could hinder progress in Rivertown, Bruno said.

“For a city that is trying to be developer-friendly and attract investment, this is not the kind of thing that investors like to see.”•

The Living Mall

Plans to turn a Metairie strip mall ‘green’ leave some tenants outside

by Ariella Cohen

A Metairie strip mall is coming alive.

A vertical eco-system of hardy climbing vines and lush, flowering plants will soon be scaling the concrete exterior walls of a Veterans Boulevard shopping center. The living “bio-walls” will be the first such planted edifices in the area, bringing Metairie into the ranks of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto, where such walls have literally flowered.

“We want to show people that you can put a live, green building in a place of tar and cement,” said property developer Josh Bruno.

The New Orleans-based developer and former nightclub owner purchased the 4427 Veterans Blvd. shopping center earlier this year with $1.7 million and a dream of giving the aging, nondescript row of stores located on the corner of Clearview Boulevard a green facelift, he said.

Bio-walls are essentially gardens planted on plastic trellises and attached to concrete walls. From a distance, they appear like the furry, overgrown edifices of medieval castles. Closer inspection reveals layered designs where thick foliage grows between two layers of loosely-woven plastic screwed into the concrete wall. Plant roots reach downwards, sometimes extending several stories.

The living installations, requiring pumps and a drainage system for regular watering, can increase the cost of a building significantly. Bruno pegged the cost of his exterior bio-walls at $2 million, more than he paid for the entire building. Plans also include interior bio-walls.

What makes the green installation more than simply on-the-building landscaping is the bio-wall’s ability to filter toxins and impurities from the air that enters the building, Bruno said. “Think about all the chemicals in an office building,” said Bruno. “The bio-wall is a living, breathing filter so you don’t take that in.”

Indoor bio-walls have long been touted as a cure for so-called sick building syndrome, a health ailment related to exposure to the toxic gases emitted by chemicals found in the paint, cleaning and office supplies of many buildings.

Recent research, however, shows the health benefits may be hard to discern or even non-existent in a structure the size of the Veterans bio-mall, said David Lay, operations manager of a much-studied bio-wall at the Integrated Leaning Center at Queens University in Ontario.

“A bio-wall is a pretty thing to look at and in theory, it should clean the air,” Lay said. “In practice, you need a whole lot more plants than you can fit on a vertical wall to get quantifiable results. It’s a beautiful, impressive thing, but the benefits are primarily psychological.”

Bruno is counting on the bio-walls to raise the value of the aging two-story retail and office space, which sits directly across the street from Clearview Mall.

Though his team of designers hasn’t started working on the building’s green-habilitation, Bruno informed tenants this week that their rents will rise. The strip is now occupied by a mix of small, locally-owned stores on the first floor and offices on the second story. First-floor tenants include Louisiana Insurance; Perfume y Accesorios, an accessories and perfume store that caters to Spanish speakers; D&L Hair Salon; V Nails & Tanning Salon, Pizza Florence and Nordic Kitchens and Bath. On the second floor is EPS Alarms, Progressive Insurance and a number of other small business tenants.

The bio-wall second-story, which will be completely renovated, is expected to attract a new tenant base that can “afford the rental increase,” according to a market projection done by Bruno. The only retail tenants expected to stay on under the new owner are Nordic Kitchens and Bath and Pizza Florence, according to the projection.

The sit-down Italian restaurant and the designer kitchen showroom cater to an upscale audience, and owners of both say the bio-wall and other planned improvements to the building will do their business good.

“The concept is phenomenal,” Nordic owner Randall Shaw said.

Bruno envisions replacing some of the lower-end stores on the building’s street-level with upscale tenants, including a brand-name cosmetic retailer and possibly, a spa that could capitalize on the cleansing appeal of the bio-wall.

“The boutique places that are in Old Metairie and on Magazine Street are lacking on Veterans,” said Bruno. “The market is there and the bio-wall is a good complement for (those business.)”

A rendering of Bruno’s plans for the strip mall does not include the neon signs of the salons that exist at the mall now. Looking at the rendering, the owner of V Nails & Tanning Salon, V Nguyen, said she would she would probably leave the space when the rents rose, regardless of the “cool” bio-wall.

“We are a regular salon,” Nguyen said, standing next to an empty foot bath, the air thick with the scent of nail solvents and rubbing alcohol. “If the rents go up, we need a bigger parking lot for more customers, not trees on the wall.”•

Developer plants ‘bio-wall’ project at Metairie building

by Ariella Cohen Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS - Green building is going live. Literally.

New Orleans developer Josh Bruno has taken the first step toward creating a vertical ecosystem of hardy climbing plants and lush foliage on the concrete exterior of a Veterans Memorial Boulevard shopping center. The living “bio-walls” will be the first in the Gulf South, bringing Metairie into the ranks of Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto, where living walls have flowered.

“We want to show people that you can put a live, green building in a place of tar and cement,” said Bruno, 27, who bought the two-story strip mall at 4427 Veterans Blvd. earlier this year for $1.7 million.

Bio-walls are essentially gardens planted on rectangular panels packed with moisture-retaining soil that are attached to concrete walls. Plant roots reach downward, sometimes extending several stories.

The living installations, which require a drip irrigation system, typically cost $40 to $60 a square foot, without plants. Including the greenery, costs can run up to $150 a square foot, depending on the type of vegetation chosen, said Eliot Pister, sales manager for G-Sky, the British Columbia-based bio-wall manufacturer designing the Veterans Boulevard walls. Annual maintenance of the landscaped walls runs about $5 per square foot per year, Pister said.

Bruno pegged the cost of his exterior bio-walls at $2 million — more than the building’s purchase price. He plans interior and exterior bio-walls and no plants that produce pollen will be used.

Health, environment benefit

First developed in the 1990s, the walls have been touted for their oxygen-producing capabilities and ability to purify air. Some advocates say bio-walls can be used indoors to prevent so-called sick building syndrome, a health ailment related to the gases emitted by chemicals found in paint, cleaning and office supplies.

The syndrome became notorious locally in 2001 when state employees working in the 44-story Plaza Tower filed a class-action lawsuit against the building’s owner, claiming mold, asbestos and other chemicals in the skyscraper had made them ill. The since-vacated building is undergoing a $10-million mold remediation project.

“Think about all the chemicals in a regular office building,” Bruno said. “The bio-wall is a living, breathing filter, so you don’t take that in.”

In a building the size of 4427 Veterans Blvd., however, the air-purification benefits may be hard to discern, or even nonexistent, said David Lay, operations manager of a much-studied bio-wall at the Integrated Leaning Center at Queens University in Ontario.

“A bio-wall is a pretty thing to look at and, in theory, it should clean the air,” Lay said. “In practice, you need a whole lot more plants than you can fit on a vertical wall to get quantifiable results. It’s a beautiful, impressive thing, but the benefits are primarily psychological.”

Bio-wall manufacturers say the energy savings produced by exterior installations can also be significant.

“A living wall acts as an insulating layer for the building,” Pister said. “We estimate it will bring down the temperature of the area behind the wall by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit and reduce the need for air conditioning.”

Enhancing property value

Bruno is counting on the bio-walls to raise the value of his aging two-story retail and office space, which sits directly across the street from Clearview Mall.

Though his team of designers hasn’t started work on the building’s bio-walls, Bruno has already informed tenants he’d like to see a little more green from them. In addition to the rent increase, he envisions replacing some of the current lower-end stores with upscale tenants, including a brand-name cosmetic retailer and possibly a spa that could capitalize on the cleansing appeal of the bio-wall.

“The boutique places that are in Old Metairie and on Magazine Street are lacking on Veterans,” Bruno said. “The market is there and the bio-wall is a good complement.”

The strip is filled with a mix of small, locally owned stores on the first floor, with office tenants above. First-floor tenants include Louisiana Insurance; Perfume Y Accesorios, an accessories and perfume store that caters to Spanish speakers; D&L Hair Salon; V Nails & Tanning Salon; Pizza Florence; and Nordic Kitchens and Bath. EPS Alarms, Progressive Insurance and a number of other small business tenants occupy the second floor.

The second story, which will be completely renovated, is expected to attract a new tenant base that can “afford the rental increase,” according to a market projection done by Bruno. The only retail tenants expected to stay on under the new owner are Nordic Kitchens and Bath and Pizza Florence, according to the projection.

The sit-down Italian restaurant and the designer kitchen showroom cater to an upscale audience, and owners of both say the bio-wall and other planned improvements to the building will be good for their business.

“The concept is phenomenal,” Nordic owner Randall Shaw said.

A rendering of Bruno’s plans for the strip mall holds no hint of the neon-lit salons that exist in the strip now. Instead, there is a silver Porsche parked in front of a blank storefront.

Looking at her landlord’s illustration, V Nguyen, who owns V Nails & Tanning Salon, said she would she would probably leave the space when the rents rose, regardless of the “cool” bio-wall.

“We are a regular salon,” she said, standing next to an empty foot bath, the air thick with the scent of nail solvents and rubbing alcohol. “If the rents go up, we need a bigger parking lot for more customers, not trees on the wall.”

Concept sprouting in U.S.

Bruno is also developing a $20-million “green” office and retail complex in Slidell, on a site adjacent to the planned 400-acre University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park.

The Century Park complex will likely include a bio-wall, said the developer, who is also renovating a 14-story office building at 1600 Canal St. and apartment complexes in Kenner and the Treme.

“The New Orleans region is actually the perfect environment for bio-walls,” Bruno said. “We have high humidity so the tropical plants will grow, plenty of rain and a clear need for sustainable architecture.”

The United States has been relatively slow to pick up on bio-walls. Of the 200 bio-walls or roofs done by G-Sky, only a quarter of them have been in North America, said Pister, who credits government incentive programs in Europe and Japan with spurring popularity there. There are no incentives for bio-walls in the United States, though there are such programs for green roofs.

The eco-minded salesman believes bio-features will bloom as more corporations hop on the green bandwagon and look for new ways to convey that eco-consciousness to consumers. In the past five months, G-Sky has put the finishing plants on walls inside the Whole Foods Market flagship location in Austin, Texas, and on the exterior of a W Hotel in Atlanta.

“The biggest benefit is marketing,” Pister said. “The pedestrian and press attention a bio-wall brings is huge.”

Last week, Bruno shopped for retail tenants at the annual International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas. Bruno was not be the only developer with a green pitch, and he may need more than a living wall to fill his project, said Jerry Yudelson, the shopping council’s green expert.

“By itself, the wall might just look like the aftermath of Katrina,” Yudelson said. “I saw one in a development in London last week. It’s visually interesting but I don’t think it particularly says anything to the average person.”

Yudelson recommended the developer consider more effective — and less pretty — green additions to the building, such as a wind turbine or solar panels to supply clean energy.

“There is a lot of competition out there to be green,” he said.•

N.O. group fixing 61 apartments in 60 days

 

Officials with New Orleans-based Downtown Development Group say they plan to finish redeveloping 61 low- to moderate-income apartments in the city and in Metairie within 60 days.

The buildings are Washington Gardens, 2119 Washington Ave.; Washington Place, 2316 Washington Ave.; and Metairie Heights, 1609 S. Arnoult Road.

The apartments are being marketed to returning residents and migrant workers. Apartment managers will speak Spanish and English, and parking will be available for oversized trucks and other machinery.

The apartments will consist of studio and one-, two- and three-bedroom units that will range from $550 to $950 a month with water and gas fees.

DDG officials say they are now pre-leasing the apartments.

DDG President Joshua Bruno, a native of New York who attended Tulane University, said he will start a neighborhood crime watch at each apartment to ensure tenant safety. Each building will be equipped with closed-circuit televisions and gated off-street parking.

N.O. developer plans to shelter migrant workers


NEW ORLEANS – Developer Joshua Bruno said there’s a deep need for affordable housing in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

Hispanic laborers helping rebuild the city and residents still displaced by the hurricane are having a hard time finding such housing, he said.

He’s hoping to fill that need with two Central City apartment developments totaling 49 low-income units that should be completed within 50 days.

Bruno, president of New Orleans-based Downtown Development Group, is converting old apartment complexes on Washington Avenue into new housing without using tax credits that many developers are seeking post-Katrina.

He said his project is privately financed, although he will take advantage of the Gulf Opportunity Zone’s bonus depreciation incentive.

Washington Gardens, a $1.4-million development at 2119 Washington Ave., will feature 24 apartments. Washington Place, a $1.3-million development at 2316 Washington Ave., will have 25 apartments.

Washington Place should open in 30 days, and Washington Gardens should open 20 days later, he said.

Bruno said the one-bedroom, 400-square-foot studio apartments will rent in the mid-$600 range.

Before Katrina, the complexes were magnets for drugs and crime and a thorn in the side of the 6th District police, he said.

Bruno, a New York native who attended Tulane University, said his apartments might house some of his own employees. Fifteen employees, or about 20 percent of his total workforce, are from Mexico, Argentina or Honduras, he said. Some of the workers are living in Kenner and Treme, he said.

Since they came to the city to help with the rebuilding, migrant workers have “not been accepted by a lot of other landlords,” he said.

In some cases, landlords have asked migrant workers for double deposits out of fear they might suddenly leave, he said.

Bruno said he has been able to keep the cost of construction down by relying on his in-house construction company. By buying materials in bulk at a discount, the cost-per-square-foot can be lowered, he said. Other developers should consider building without tax credits, which bring with them high carrying costs, he said. Also, private financing often allows a developer to build quicker, he said.

The two Washington Avenue complexes will have gated entrances and gated parking, he said. Also, closed-circuit television cameras will monitor the property, he said.

High-efficiency electric and gas systems will keep costs down for tenants, he said. Also, gas and water usage is covered in rent, he said.

The properties also have courtyards that provide green space for tenants to use, he said.

Bruno is also developing Metairie Heights apartments, a 12-unit complex at 1609 S. Arnoult Road in Metairie. The site was home to an apartment complex that dated to the 1960s, he said.

Metairie Heights is 65 percent complete, with tenants already living there, he said.

One-bedroom units will rent in the low-$700 range, he said.

Panel OK’s office parks neer Slidell, Mandeville


spacer.png, 0 kB
spacer.png, 0 kB
Home :: Privacy Policy :: Terms of Use
Maintained by New Orleans Web Design Company - InfintechDesigns.com