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Businesses expect to benefit from Lafitte Greenway traffic

10th April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Bicyclists, joggers and birdwatchers aren’t the only ones waiting for the three-mile Lafitte Greenway— running from Basin Street to Mid-City and Lakeview—to be developed. Neighboring businesses hope to serve residents and tourists using the strip. The 40-year-old, corridor idea has gathered steam, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Administration aims to have much of the work on it done by 2014.

“We’ve committed $7 million to the greenway’s development and have begun an extensive, community planning and design effort,” said Ryan Berni, press secretary to Mayor Landrieu, last week. “Part of that effort is development of the Lafitte Corridor Revitalization Plan.” The mayor sees the greenway as a transformational project that will invigorate communities.

The revitalization plan will provide specific recommendations for land use, zoning, urban design, infrastructure, parks and recreation, and sustainability, Berni said. On the financial side, the plan will address economic development, capital investment, market forces, social equity and public-private partnerships.

On Saturday, April 14, the nonprofit Friends of the Lafitte Corridor sponsors its annual hike, starting at Delgado Community College and ending at Armstrong Park, to raise awareness about the corridor. Alonzo Knox, co-owner of Cafe Tremé, said he hopes those making the trek will visit his business, located a block from the greenway behind Armstrong Park near Congo Square.

Knox is optimistic about the corridor, which should break ground next year. He said “we’re very encouraged and hopeful that the greenway will spur economic development and bring more customers from all over to our cafe” at 1501 St. Philip Street. He and co-owner Gladys Marigny opened the cafe last September to fill a local need. Knox has a business background and Marigny renovates historic buildings.

“Friends of Lafitte Corridor has held meetings in our cafe and been very good to us overall,” Knox said. He noted that the federal government supports the greenway project. “I attended a local meeting in December where Interior Secretary Salazar spoke and said the greenway is a priority project.” The corridor has been allocated more than $7 million in U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Develop­ment block grants since Katrina.

“If they do it right, the greenway will be a path connecting a number of neighborhoods,” Knox said. “I’m looking forward to exploring areas in Mid-City that I’m not that familiar with now. And it will get kids here off of Canal St. and other busy avenues into a healthier, safer environment.”

Knox said “the corridor will have a synergy in and around Tremé with redevelopment of the Iberville housing development, Craig Elementary School, the African American Museum and the North Rampart streetcar line.” He added “at the same time, they’re studying tearing down the I-10 overpass,” a structure that has deterred adjacent, commercial activity.

Knox said the greenway will help other businesses nearby, including Dooky Chase and Willie May’s Scotch House restaurants, the Candlelight Lounge—where the Tremé Brass Band plays every Wednesday—the Basin St. Bar, the Vieux Carré Lounge and Kermit Ruffins’ Tremé Speak­easy—with the latter scheduled to open this year. The 72-year-old, Q Lee Laundry and Cleaners, the city’s second, oldest cleaning and tailoring business, should also benefit.

Knox cites his reasons for optimism about the greenway, saying “there’s more civic engagement, real community engagement in New Orleans now than before Katrina, and new perspectives that are being voiced. There’s a meeting of the old and new, with a respect for the past. There are more checks and balances and more eyes on the street, so to speak, watching what’s going on.”

He and his wife Jessica, a FOLC board member, moved to Tremé from Washington, DC in 2003. He grew up in Baton Rouge and Jessica is from Waynesboro, Miss.

Friends of Lafitte Corridor provided some of the greenway’s history. Architect Daniel Samuels, who served as FOLC’s president from 2006 to 2008, said “the concept of redeveloping the corridor as a linear, open-space amenity dates to the 1970s, and re-emerged after Katrina as a strategy to stimulate re-investment in storm-damaged neighborhoods stretching from Tremé to Lakeview.” The route traces an old rail line and a canal. “The city’s vision calls for transformation of this former, industrial corridor as a mixed use district,” surrounding the greenway, he said.

The project is slowly coming into fruition. Mark Venczel, the current FOLC president, said “the Nagin Administration raised some questions abut the contract bidding process and canceled a contract with landscape architects Design Workshop.” But the contract was rebid under the Landrieu Admini­stration and the Austin, Texas office of Colorado-based Design Workshop landed the contract again in August 2010. Working with New Orleans city agencies, Design Workshop will manage construction of the greenway—including bicycle and pedestrian paths, open spaces and recreational areas.

Samuels said “economic activity developing along the corridor includes the recently-announced Mid-City Market and a new, retail cluster envisioned in the master plan for Iberville.” In September, HUD awarded the city $30.5 million to revitalize the Iberville Housing Development and the Tremé neighborhood.

Samuels said “the entire Lafitte corridor is encompassed within three, contiguous Louisiana Cul­tur­al Districts, which offer state tax credits for the sale of original art and the rehabilitation of historic structures.”

As for Mid-City Market, “some of the buildings will face the greenway, and shops and cafes will have entrances looking out onto it,” said Townsend Underhill, vice president at Stirling Properties, which is developing the site. “Companies that have signed leases are market businesses, and I’m not aware of any tax incentives for them.”

He said other cities, including Charlotte, N.C. and Denver, have greenways, and he noted that in south Louisiana, “the Tammany Trace passes through downtown Covington, and surrounding retail businesses do well.”

Companies that have signed leases in Mid-City Market are Winn-Dixie, Office Depot, Neighborhood Pet Market by Jefferson Feed, Felipe’s Taqueria, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Pei Wei Asian Diner and Pinkberry. “We are 80 percent leased so far,” Underhill said. “We don’t have a lease with a bicycle shop but are pursuing one.”

Mayor Landrieu gave Winn-Dixie permission to cut a road across the greenway so the store can connect with a parking lot. Separately, the greenway also crosses Claiborne and Carrollton avenues and several other thoroughfares.

Berni said “some areas along the corridor are already cultural product districts. And we have a number of citywide incentives, such as the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, which could be put to use along the corridor.” He continued “we believe that capital investments in the greenway will attract development along the entire corridor.”

Cafe Tremé has received no special tax breaks or incentives but Knox said “now is the time for entrepreneurs looking to open or expand a business in Tremé.”

He noted that “Tremé is having a renaissance, with a renewed focus on its culture, music, second lines, art and history within the civil rights movement. This year, we’re having our bicentennial as the nation’s first, free Black neighborhood. We’re building our brand as a neighborhood.”

For details about this Saturday’s hike, visit the Friends of Lafitte Corridor website at folc-nola.org.

This article was originally published in the April 9, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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