Newell: Development momentum finally building in New Orleans East

Data-driven approach to investment will attract new businesses, tell a new story

Newell Normand
November 12, 2019 - 2:11 pm
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There’s a big move afoot to ramp up business and industry in New Orleans East. What’s the plan to improve the economy in the largest underdeveloped landmass in the region?

The New Orleans Business Alliance (NOBA) has announced a new multi-layered growth strategy to promote economic and community development for the 85,000 residents who call the East home. Newell invited NOBA President and CEO Quentin Messer onto the program Tuesday morning to discuss, along with NOBA CFO Norman Barnum and NOBA’s VP of External Affairs and Strategic Neighborhood Development Nolan Marshall.

“This is an exciting project,” Newell began. “This entire situation regarding the redevelopment of New Orleans East and what it ultimately will mean... we drive in, and we see some vacant big-box properties, some of whom have been taken down, others that have been redeveloped into new uses... the challenges are many but the excitement and momentum are strong!”

“This is a tremendous opportunity to let people know… what happens in the East is really underreported,” Messer replied. “Think about it - the rockets that have taken humankind to the Moon are developed in New Orleans East, at NASA Michoud. People forget that.”

The most visible part of NOBA’s efforts residents are likely to notice in the coming months is the purchase of billboard space near the I-10 High Rise bridge. The billboard will highlight a wide range of sectors succeeding in the East, including advanced manufacturing, consumer products, healthcare and retail.

“The billboards are the first part of an effort to reframe the conversation about New Orleans East,” Messer continued. “That’s why we titled the campaign ‘New Orleans East means Business.’ It’s not an aspiration, it’s a reality!”

“When you talk about the challenges of assembling large tracts of land for development - that’s hard,” Newell said. “You have many of those that are ripe for the taking now, many that are underdeveloped, or were never developed. Like the Michoud corridor and all of that area… and now we have a new, better hardened levee system… the risk is not what it once was.”

“You’re absolutely right. So much of what we find when we talk to not only stakeholders internally, but site selectors externally, those who are not fully familiar and not live in the market - is that there’s some dated perceptions,” Messer said. “We really want to come alongside our partners to change those perceptions. There’s so many groups working on that, and we want to augment those efforts.”

“We want to have intentional focus in New Orleans East, and we want that focus to be data-driven,” Barnum added. “The perception of New Orleans East and the lack of development opportunities - we had to change that narrative.  For us, the utilization of Buxton Software, a data analytics firm, is giving us a good look at the retail possibilities in the East in addition to consumer profiles. Part of the narrative that we have to create for the retailers is that the East is vibrant, and we wanted the data to support that opinion. We’ve been very pleased with the output from them, we’ve been able to share that data with businesses, developers and investors. We want to impart that data as part of our opportunity zone prospectus to increase the ability to have a pipeline of projects in the East, and ignite the development it so richly deserves.” 

“I really believe that the upside opportunities far outweigh what the challenges will be,” Newell said. “If there’s more of a connected, joint effort that really focuses on creating opportunities for Millennials that are coming here and can’t afford to live downtown - they’re looking for something different, especially public transportation, which is not an impediment in the East.”

“One of the things we really want to do is leverage the public sector investment, tell the story to the private sector, and show that New Orleans East has already done some due diligence,” Barnum said. “One of the things that came from the data analytics was the level of affluence in the East is about equal to other parts of the City. That story has not been told… New Orleans East represents a breadth of opportunity zone versatility, from retail focus to redevelopment of the Six Flags site, manufacturing and industrial… we can have a level of deal transaction and flow from as low as $500,000 to $100 million. That’s a story we are well equipped to tell.”

“Let’s take Jazzland as an example,” Newell said. “There’s been a lot of disagreement about what to do with that. Some people say tear it down, others want to redevelop it. Is there a consensus there? That project is a huge momentum builder, right?”

“There is a consensus to bring it back into commerce as fast as possible, everyone can agree on that,” Messer answered. “But what we don’t want to do is, because it’s such a psychologically significant parcel - you don’t want to bring it back in a suboptimal way that has you thinking ‘we missed an opportunity.’ One thing we’re doing with a cross-section of partners, led by the residents themselves, is looking at the data is telling us. Here’s what the market is saying what they’ll invest in. You can decide not to pay attention to that, but that’s the reality. So how do you leverage that? I am very optimistic that in the next 18-32 months that something significant will be announced.”

“I like the approach,” Newell said. “Because you can have a vision but if it’s not executable, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. So I think you’re right to go to the market and investors and ask what they think, what tickles their fancy, what do they see? Because if those visions don’t match, and you don’t have people willing to spend their money… I could have the greatest vision on the face of the Earth, but if I can’t achieve it, it’s not worth anything.”

Hear the full interview in the audio player below.

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