Mark Twain once quipped “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”. The Crescent City has been America’s boomtown before, but this time, something is different. Aided by tech, medical and digital media job growth, infrastructure improvements, rising tourism and political reform, the City has become a magnet for young educated professionals, and retailers have noticed.
In recent history, aging infrastructure and crime crippled economic development. While Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were physically devastating to the region, they also uncovered social and political issues that needed to be rectified. Federal funds flowed to improve infrastructure. With that came oversight and political reform. The private sector rolled up their sleeves and made bold choices to invest in the city and its unique culture.
Together this created a higher demand than the current supply of Retail can absorb. As reported by The New Orleans Business Alliance, the city currently is losing $1.9 Billion in retail sales annually to neighboring parishes where traditional retail development has flourished. While some sections of the city still are recovering, the city’s core has experienced a great demand for development and re-development. “New Orleans was once considered a market that offered the worst to retailers. Today retailer activity and interest are at an all-time high,” stated Townsend Underhill, Senior Vice President at Stirling Properties.
Luxury retail is on the rise. The Shops at Canal Place, anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, has experienced double digit sales growth in each of the last four years. Recent openings include J. Crew, Allen Edmonds, Michael Kors and Lululemon, with Tiffany and Company slated to open in November. “It is clear that New Orleans is experiencing nothing short of a Renaissance,” stated Brandon Berger of The Berger Company, owner of Canal Place. “Canal Place is well positioned as the only Luxury Mall between Houston and Atlanta. The higher end the item the retailer carries, the higher their sales volume.” In addition H&M will open a 32,000 square-foot French Quarter location in late October, their first in the United States outside of New York and Boston to offer home goods as well as soft goods.
The Outlet Collection at the Riverwalk, an upscale outlet center downtown near the French Quarter and Warehouse district, is scheduled to open in 2014. At 250,000 square feet, it will serve both locals and tourists and is billed as the only Outlet Center in a downtown setting in the U.S. Mark Bulmash, Vice President of Development at the Howard Hughes Corporation and Developer at Riverwalk added, “A few years ago, retailers would ask the question, ‘Why New Orleans?’ Today the question is, ‘Why aren’t we in New Orleans?’”
The Warehouse District in the CBD has transformed from blighted space into a vibrant neighborhood. The 40,000 square-foot Rouses Grocery opened in 2011 and was influential in making the area a true neighborhood. While condominium conversion is still underway, new construction mixed-use projects are also taking shape. The South Market District by the Domain Companies is under construction. Phase I will open late 2014 featuring 209 residential units and 22,000 square feet of Retail. Once complete, the project will include over 600 residential units and 170,000 square feet of retail located along the streetcar line and walkable from downtown Class A office buildings and the Superdome.
The 107,000 square foot Mid-City Market developed by Stirling Properties opened in July. Anchored by Winn Dixie, the site marks the entry into New Orleans for some notable restaurant chains like Panera Bread, Pei Wei, and Five Guys, and filled the void for much needed goods and services in the Mid-City neighborhood. Whole Foods will enter Mid-City as well with a store currently under construction on Broad Street that will mark their third location in the New Orleans metro.
Big box stores and Jr. Anchors that traditionally were kept out of the city for lack of developable land have found a limited opportunity to penetrate the market. Costco has completed its first Louisiana location with a 148,000 square foot store located near the population center. Wal-Mart has two Supercenters under construction in Gentilly and New Orleans East, 110,000 square feet and 180,000 square feet respectively. Magnolia Marketplace, scheduled to break ground in January 2014, will be the only true Power Center on the Eastbank of New Orleans and will offer Jr. Anchors the chance to gain access to the local market for the first time.
Development projects in virtually all areas of the city will allow retailers to penetrate a market previously thought impenetrable. Additional growth of mixed-use and street retail projects will offer more opportunities for the growing retail sector and will cater to the urban population and tourists. From luxury to discount, retail is hot in New Orleans and investors, lenders, developers and retailers are working hard to gain a presence.
This article was submitted to Southeast Real Estate Business magazine. An edited version appeared in the October 2013, Volume 14, Issue 7 print edition.