Downtown retail may increase as residential population increases

June 20 2011 | Latest News
Weigle hopes downtown population boost leads to new retail

David Muller, Staff Writer CityBusiness
June 17th, 2011

In the last decade, New Orleans population took a hefty decline — nearly 30 percent — as a result of Hurricane Katrina and the notorious failure of the levee system in 2005.

During the same time period, the number of people living in the Central Business and Warehouse districts has gone up along with the price of living there. These were among the findings Downtown Development District President Kurt Weigle released today at the University of New Orleans annual Economic Outlook and Real Estate Forecast Seminar.

“Half of these people moving into these apartments are from out of state, and they’re bringing a lot of brain power with them,” Weigle said.

His numbers show that in 2001, 951 residents lived in downtown apartments, compared to 1,259 this year. Another 400 lived in condominiums 10 years ago, a number that’s grown to 1,616. The average price per square foot of downtown residential real estate in 2001 was $1.26 per square foot, and it now stands at $1.75 .

One factor, total occupancy, has remained stable over the decade. Despite the increase in inventory, the 96 percent occupancy rate in 2001 has fallen just 1 percent in the interim.

Weigle said he’s confident the trend of more residents in the downtown area will lead to more stores and shopping options.

“Retail follows rooftops,” he said.

Speaking of retail, Weigle said the DDD is doing its part to rid the Canal Street corridor of “undesirable” stores, inferring locations such as discount camera shops, athletic shoe stores and T-shirt outlets.

It has seen success with the first two, as there are just five camera stores now compared with 11 in 2001, and five shoe stores down from nine. A variety of other merchants have replaced them, but T-shirt shops have been harder to force out, with their number remaining unchanged at 12.

Weigle, noting a recent trip to Paris, said having ample T-shirt shops is just part of being a tourist destination.

He reported that there are 23 active prospects for new downtown retail , compared with 14 in 2010, and eight site visits so far this year, up from five from all of 2010.