Iberville housing Project

iberville-rendering.jpgDevelopers tapped to recreate the Iberville public housing complex believe they can also build a retail development nearby that could rival Lakeside Shopping Center.

Discussion around a proposed federal grant has mostly centered on the redevelopment of the Iberville public housing development. But co-developer Pres Kabacoff believes that the larger, less historic real estate on the lake side of Basin Street can provide the base for a substantial retail development long desired by New Orleanians accustomed to driving to Metairie for everything.

The Housing Authority of New Orleans and the city are hoping for the chance to redo Iberville with a Choice Neighborhoods grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program will award a total of $62 million for perhaps as few as two sites. HUD officials won't say how many are in the running.

A public investment of that magnitude could do more than just recast the old brick housing development at the edge of the French Quarter, officials and developers say. With a simultaneous boost from two new hospitals and a possible government reuse of Charity, they say, that part of downtown could see its population triple and its median income rise exponentially - and in turn become an attractive site for retailers.

New Orleanians have long lamented the decline of Canal Street shopping and the need to go elsewhere for even the most basic goods.

'Canal Street was our thoroughfare'

Iberville residents mourn the loss of shopping too, said Elaine "Mawmaw" Robiho, 62, a member of the new seven-member Iberville resident committee giving input on the redevelopment. "They wouldn't mind seeing Canal Street revitalized, that's what people back here say, " said Robiho, waxing nostalgic for the days of shopping nearby at Maison Blanche and D.H. Holmes department stores. "Canal Street was our thoroughfare where we met anyone and everyone, " she said.

Developer Pres Kabacoff, who was tapped by HANO to lead the envisioned Iberville redevelopment, said that a key reason for the downtown retail desert is that the French Quarter portion of Canal and its narrow side-by-side buildings provide few available properties big enough for national and big-box retailers to make a profit.

Those impediments fall away across Basin Street, said Kabacoff, pointing to a cluster of underused real estate with larger available parcels and few historic buildings. It's there - between Iberville and the old Charity Hospital site - that Kabacoff envisions a "major retail center, " with the range of stores found at a suburban shopping center but built onto a much smaller footprint in a way that complements the city's historic architecture. Residential housing would be mixed with stores, which would front onto vibrant sidewalks and streets, he said.

"If you get the retail, you have transformed the city, " he said.

Kabacoff, who's both a shrewd businessman and a hopeless romantic when it comes to his hometown, said he believes the Iberville redevelopment could be "the most transformative" project of his lifetime.

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