$70 million first phase could begin in early 2016

Posted on: November 1 2015


The shuttered Navy base in Algiers would be transformed into 1,600 homes and apartments within a five-minute walk of 356,000 square feet of new office and retail space, according to the latest development plan for the Federal City project.

There would be a boutique hotel and a 35,000-square-foot grocery store with offices above it, near ground-floor retail space with residences on top. Tree-lined streets and green space would occupy the rest of the 114-acre site.

“Open space is substantial,” said Steven Oubre, of Architects Southwest, the Lafayette firm that developed the master plan. “There is a tremendous amount of open space in the product.”

Months in the making, the new blueprint for the Federal City project received the blessing last week of the Algiers Development District, which owns most of the site. The ADD is a special taxing district created by the state.

“We have what we think is a viable master plan,” state Rep. Jeff Arnold, who chairs the district’s board, said after the panel voted to approve the blueprint.


The first phase of the project could begin early next year, when master developer Vista Louisiana LLC begins tearing down some of the motel-like buildings along Gen. Meyer Drive and building businesses and residences in their place. About $70 million will be invested in that phase alone, said Tom Miller, of Vista Louisiana.

The company, a joint venture created for Federal City, signed on to the project in January and commissioned Architects Southwest to develop the master plan. Vista will privately finance the entire project.

“In 35 years, Vista has never had a failure,” Miller said.

The Navy operated a military installation on the site almost continuously between 1901 and 2011, when the so-called Naval Support Activity base was closed. The Navy announced it would shut the base in 2005, but a federal commission intervened and allowed the state and city to redevelop the site under the name Federal City.

The state, meanwhile, provided $150 million to build the 29-acre Marine Corps Support Facility, considered the anchor for the neighboring Federal City development. Because of that investment, the state’s Division of Administration still must approve the new master plan, Arnold said.

It is Federal City’s second master plan. The first one, for which the state paid more than $400,000, was done by the urban planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., of Miami, and was adopted in 2009. It included business and residential spaces, along with an educational district around a “town center” area adjacent to the Marine Corps installation.

However, that plan was shelved following a dispute over who would control the development. The Algiers Development District came out on top in that battle and brought in a new master developer. Vista Louisiana used its own money to hire Architects Southwest, an urban planning firm that designed the upscale Village at River Ranch community in Lafayette.

Oubre said the new plan “extracts the best ideas” from the old plans. It was developed with input given during several charrettes, or design meetings, held since April.

The plan still needs zoning changes from the city, and it will be submitted to the City Planning Commission, officials said.

The name Federal City could be a thing of the past, too. The developers propose calling the site “New Orleans Riverside at Historic Algiers.” Its buildings’ general designs would mesh with local architecture, including the century-old Navy buildings, Oubre said. He called the Federal City name “impersonal.”

The Algiers Development District plans to sell off portions of the site to the developers in phases. The details of those transactions are still being worked out. But the money the district would receive would be reinvested in the project, providing enhanced security for the site or adding the former Todd Shipyard property immediately downriver from Federal City, Arnold said.

The New Orleans Police Department’s 4th District headquarters, which leases building space in Federal City for $1 per year, is not included in the master plan. Arnold said the city has plans to build a new police and Fire Department facility elsewhere in Algiers. But for the foreseeable future, the NOPD station will remain in Federal City, officials said.

Oubre said that based on market studies, the planned residential areas will be marketed to baby boomers and millennials who typically would earn twice the mean income level in Orleans Parish. He did not specify the income level.

The Navy’s century-old buildings would be incorporated into the site’s layout, with some used for residential lofts.

The Navy’s water tower, an icon on the Algiers skyline and a backdrop in several “NCIS New Orleans” episodes, will be retained, too, as a historic focal point around which some businesses will be located.

Oubre said the four two-story residences the Navy built for senior officers in 1907 on Constitution Street would be moved blocks away to be near Quarters A, the 1840s-era plantation house where the highest-ranking military officer in the city has resided since World War II. The Marine Corps owns the house.