The Promise of a Streetcar has Energized Commercial Projects Along Loyola Avenue
12.12.2010 – A plan by Domain Cos. to develop apartments and retail spaces in the Loyola Avenue corridor is one of several projects spurred by the coming extension of the streetcar line.

Lou Talebloo has owned the Industries Building at 234 Loyola Ave. since 2004, and he’s decided that it’s time to remove the 1950s facade from the elegant 1908 office building and turn it into apartments and streetside shops.

And while he’s at it, in 2012, he’ll turn the neighboring Rault Center, the long-vacant site of the 1972 fire that killed six people, into condominiums.

As far as Talebloo is concerned, this is the time.

With well over a half-billion dollars of new investment flowing into the area, as the Hyatt Regncy New Orleans reopens with a $243 million renovation, the Benson family works toward a $100 million office-sports-entertainment district alongside Superdome, and the Regional Transit Authority builds a new streetcar line along Loyola Avenue, the area around his properties is springing to life.

“All of these combined together, they’re all positive,” said Talebloo, who also owns an oriental rug shop on Magazine Street. “The streetcar is awesome. It brings foot traffic. I want to see a downtown where people don’t drive, they walk.”

Since the Loyola Avenue streetcar project was announced in February, hotel renovations, apartments and retail projects have been springing up along the moribund 1.5-mile strip. The Saratoga Lofts will open in June, a Rouses supermarket will open in September, renovations at the Hyatt and Holiday Inn Downtown Superdome will be completed in October, and residential and retail projects are expected to begin shortly thereafter in anticipation of a growing biosciences district.

The investments could transform a corner of the city best known for surface parking lots and blighted buildings into a place where people live, work and gather without losing time and money to automobile travel.

No one is more pleased than the Regional Transit Authority, which won the $45 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Ace stimulus grant that is paying for the entire Loyola streetcar project.

“When you develop streetcar routes, you hope to create economic development in the communities that you serve,” said Justin T. Augustine, vice president of Veolia Transportation, which runs the Regional Transit Authority. “In urban corridors around the city, you tend to see development follow transportation routes. I expect that businesses will take a second look into this area.”

Kurt Weigle, president and chief executive of the Downtown Development District, said rail projects such as streetcars can be powerful economic engines because they tend to concentrate investment. Developers that could build projects anywhere in the city decide to focus on the area around the streetcar because the foot traffic makes projects less risky. When several developers concentrate their energy on a single area, the city derives more benefit than if the projects were scattered. Meanwhile, property owners who are sitting on the fence suddenly have new incentives to develop their land.

“Transit, especially at this point in time, is one of the most important amenities and development tools that we can use downtown and throughout the city,” Weigle said.

Projects incubating

Developer Marcel Wisznia, for example, decided back in 2006 to turn the 212 Loyola office building into apartments because of plans for the new public teaching and Veterans Affairs hospitals and because of a preliminary proposal for the streetcar – in fact, Wisznia is such a streetcar fan that his other two downtown apartment projects, the Union Lofts and the Maritime, are both on streetcar lines. And when Wisznia’s neighbor, Talebloo, does the Industries building, the block will be transformed.

By Rebecca Mowbray