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Posted: Monday, 29 April 2013 6:09AM

Retailers seem to like what they see in New Orleans

A groundbreaking in New Orleans East Monday would appear to be just part of an apparent retail boom in the area, from Elmwood to the east and from the West Bank to I-10.  

Today, Wal-Mart and the City of New Orleans announce the groundbreaking of the former Lakeland Medical Center site at I-10 and Bullard Avenue for the development of a new Wal-Mart store serving eastern New Orleans.

Wal-Mart plans to open the 180,000-square-foot store in the fall of 2013.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority also struck a deal last year for the world's largest retailer to purchase the abandoned Gentilly Woods Shopping Mall at the corner of Chef Menteur Highway and Press Drive for $3 million.

"Wal-Mart stores have been a catalyst for traffic," says real estate analyst Wade Ragas. "And, usually, around their periphery...you'll attract restaurants, banking activities, auto services and the like."

"So, I would hope that would happen in eastern New Orleans and I would hope it would also happen in the shopping center there in Gentilly Woods."

Ragas says Wal-Mart's involvement in the area could be the catalyst needed to jump-start retail development east of the Industrial Canal.

On the West Bank, Dick's Sporting Goods and the national restaurant chain 'Bucca di Beppo' are moving into Oakwood Mall. Ragas sees a lot of potential there, as well.

"If the Avondale situation would stabilize and the job losses there would stop, and we could attract some of the energy-oriented development that's happening along the river...then we would have population growth resume on the West Bank. And, Oakwood would be the big beneficiary of any turnaround on the West Bank."

The completion of the Huey P. Long Bridge expansion in mid-June is expected to significantly boost traffic in the Elmwood area.

Ragas says Elmwood is already one the largest Class-A apartment areas in the state. It's also an industrial park, with both big distribution centers and lots of small businesses that are part office and part warehouse space.  

"And, it's almost a 'super-regional' mall all along Clearview which is now well over a million feet of floor area and still growing. It doesn't have the traditional large department store anchors, but you have Wal-Mart on one end of it, you have K-Mart, Marshall's, the Home Depot operation...many, many good quality stores arrayed along Clearview on both side of the street."

Ragas says, much as a Wal-Mart tends to attract other businesses, a new Costco at Carrollton and I-10 will draw new retail stores to Mid-City.

"I think it will draw additional new stores around it," Ragas says. "You haven't had good retail facilities to serve Mid-City in a very long time."

And he thinks Costco, itself will likely expand its operations in New Orleans.

"Usually, you get more than one Costco store when they enter a metro area. So I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple...two or three Costcos over the next several years in the New Orleans area."

Already, some of the most popular parts of the metro are in exceptionally high demand.

"Land prices on Veterans are approaching 70 dollars a square foot, an extraordinary level for retailers to pay just for the land in order to construct a building and operate. Clearview is seeing a similar situation and there's a surge of interest in downtown New Orleans."

Why the apparent boom?

"I think it's partly a commentary on rising household income for this metro," says Ragas. "And the outlook is positive that, with the surge that's happening in the petrochemical, international shipping, tourism and upcoming expansion of medical employment here...I think retailers see that as more population that's also relatively affluent being available for them to sell to. And I think that's underlying this expansion."

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Topics : Business_Finance
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Locations : Mid-cityNew OrleansWest Bank
People : Wade Ragas
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