Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Looks Great. Less Rent

The City Planning Commission has approved developers plans to convert the long vacant Falstaff Brewery into mixed income apartments.

Plans to convert the long-vacant Falstaff Brewery complex at 2600 Gravier St. into the Falstaff Apartments, a 156-unit mixed-income housing development, won approval Tuesday from the New Orleans City Planning Commission.

No one spoke against the project at a public hearing, and both the commission and representatives of nearby neighborhood associations praised it, saying it would restore a deteriorating and highly visible building and provide much-needed low-income housing.

But the commission voted to require more off-street parking spaces than the developers said they can provide, at least right now, placing the project's future in question. The final decision is up to the City Council, which is likely to take up the issue next month.

Whether or not this type of development will be financially achievable is yet to be seen. The way I see it, for the developers to charge the type of rent they are proposing they will be forced to do a renovation without all the bells and whistles the New Orleaneans would like to see return to the old brewery.
It is best remembered by many New Orleanians for the "weather ball" atop the brewery's towering sign. The ball's changing colors and the direction in which the letters of the name "Falstaff" lit up, whether from top to bottom or vice versa, forecast local weather conditions.
These little "whizbang" features cost money and have little return-on-investment. Furthermore, the Falstaff Brewery is located in a part of town that has little if any attraction to tourists. Probably the best we can expect from this development is a spruced-up building that is occupied and generating income. Both results are far better than the status quo.

However, a second phase to this project promises to further enhance the area:

The two-story Silo building at South Dorgenois and Perdido streets, which is separated from the rest of the complex, is designated for commercial development at a later date.

The developers are seeking to change the site's zoning from HI, heavy industrial, to RM-4, multiple-family residential, and to create a "mixed-use planned community district overlay."

Depending on the types of retail spaces envisioned, this could help sweeten the pot for more upscale residents. But the same old bug-a-boo remains; parking.

The biggest issue in dispute before the commission was how many off-street parking spaces the developers should have to provide. Under the zoning law, they should have 259 spaces for the apartments plus 43 for the retail spaces to be developed later.

The commission's staff recommended requiring only 156 spaces for the apartments, one for each unit, and waiving the commercial spaces for now.

But Miller said the developers can provide only 56 to 115 spaces at a site across Gravier Street that holds a former brewery administration building. If the Historic District Landmarks Commission or the council authorizes demolition of that building, the site could hold 115 vehicles. Otherwise, it can hold only 56.

There is a large parking lot between the brewery and South Broad Street, but that is not part of the rezoning request and Miller said that efforts to lease parking spaces in that lot or other nearby lots have been unsuccessful.

Miller asked the commission to require only 125 off-street spaces, which he said would be enough for a complex where many low-income residents are likely to use public transit, not their own cars. But commissioners said other residents are likely to have more than one vehicle per unit.

In the end, the commission voted to require 142 spaces, giving the developers credit for 14 spaces they could put in an alley behind the Silo building that the commission said should instead remain open recreational space.

Parking has always been a problem that that part of town. Dwight Eisenhower once said "If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it." The Planning Commission needs to understand the real purpose of mass transit. Where large numbers of people are confined to a relatively small space, that space becomes highly valuable and portioning larges parts of it for the sole purpose temporary storage of personal vehicles becomes less economical. This is where mass transit comes in. Since buses and street cars are always in uses and stored "off-site" when not in use, valuable land is not devoted to parking.

This part of New Orleans is much like Downtown in that there is large number of persons in the area during working hours mainly due to the location of the city courthouse down the street at the corner of Tulane and S. Broad St. Renovating the Falstaff Brewery will only that many people to the area.

The solution: the RTA should devise routes to include people coming to the courthouse and leaving the Brewery in the morning and vice versa in the evening. An even more ambitious plan would be to include a street car line down Tulane.

But then again, maybe I've had a few too many.

6 comments:

celcus said...

I have had some social contact with some of the people behind the project and I really think they are in way over their heads. The have the capital and desire to get the ball rolling, but little actual know how on anything remotely approaching the scale of this one.

It seems every 5-10 years the brewery project resurfaces with great fanfare and then quietly dies when the cold hard numbers of what it will take are finally known. I have little confidence this one will buck the trend. The remediation work alone has got to be enormous. It might be possible with the increased rents available in the city now, but as low to moderate income housing, I am very skeptical this will ever be done. The issue of the neighborhood, or complete lack of it, is another factor that hurts the project. I don’t know how to phrase “a lovely view of the prison� in realtorese. I am afraid this white elephant is going to be with us for a lot longer that we’d like.

Mark said...

I missed the presentation last Monday at the Mid-City planning meeting, but was assured by people present that there are some architectural guidelines (at least governing the exterior) that they are required to abide by, and plan to.

Fifty percent affordable breaks what I now call the Kabakof rule, based on his assertion (related to the old St Thomas site) is that anything over 30% won't attract market renters. Still, given the way rents are going in the city, a lot of people are going to have to be a lot less picky about that sort of thing. If its a nice and secure building that screen tenants well, it ought to be able to succeed in this market.

Zihuatanejo said...

Yes they really could or should leverage public transit. How about some Bike paths, and lanes, and parking for bikes? What is being done to make this a walkable neighborhood with retail space on the street level. Are there any community building places like corner stores and coffee shops around?


I wonder how long it will be before the Times P has the guts to write a story like this one?

And is when is New Orleans going to realize it is sinking due to organized crime run by a secret private company that is bigger than Microsoft. I mean come on, how do you expect levees.org to compete with this? And don't forget to check out the interactive map by Clicking here, then clicking launch and clicking the window

Zihuatanejo said...

I wonder how long it will be before the Times P has the guts to write a story like this one?

And is when is New Orleans going to realize it is sinking due to organized crime run by a secret private company that is bigger than Microsoft. I mean come on, how do you expect levees.org to compete with this? And don't forget to check out the interactive map by Clicking here, then clicking launch and clicking the window

Zihuatanejo said...

I thought I left a comment here?

Kinch said...

Please. Spare us the conspiracy theories.