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A New District Enlivens a Historic Neighborhood The South Market District, a cluster of six new mixed-use buildings, has introduced plentiful living, dining and shopping options to a historic part of New Orleans’ downtown that had long been long vacant. BY: Danielle Del Sol FOR DECADES, the stretch of upper Lafayette Square along O’Keefe Avenue in New Orleans’ downtown, above the art museums and restaurants but below the Superdome, sat empty, a sea of parking lots punctuated by vacant buildings. It hadn’t always been that way — the area had once been filled with a variety of businesses, as it sat adjacent for nearly a century to the bustling Poydras Market, one of the city’s many public food halls. Restaurants, shops, launderers, saloons, stables and even lumber and steel mills lined what was then called Phillipa Street, today O’Keefe, until the middle of the 20th century, when much of New Orleans’ downtown, like historic urban areas across the country, fell victim to desires for modernization and suffered rampant demolitions. New structures were never built after the demolition spree, though, hence the proliferation of surface parking lots. Lucrative as they are, parking lots do nothing to enliven a neighborhood; and when there is an abundance of lots in one area, it is an absolute deterrent to residential and commercial vitality. Today, the block facing O’Keefe Avenue and Girod Street look and feel en- tirely different. People are strolling the streets. Diners chat and eat at tables outside of restaurants. Shoppers go in and out of new stores, which offer ev- erything from clothes to furniture to convenience items. The area has been transformed — indeed, it has a whole new identity, now a new neighborhood within the Central Business District. Welcome to the South Market District. ••• THE SOUTH MARKET DISTRICT is the vision of the two principals of Domain Companies, Inc., Matt Schwartz and Chris Papamichael. The two Tulane-educated real estate developers were working in New York when Hur- ricane Katrina hit, and they immediately began planning ways they could help the city rebuild in the weeks following. “We focused on creating mixed- income housing — we felt strongly that New Orleans would come back and its core industry would return,” Schwartz said. “Given the level of housing damage at the time, there was a need for high-quality mixed-income housing.” The duo was on the first commercial flight to New Orleans from New York once MSY reopened, and they set to work acquiring land on the Tulane Avenue corridor to build mixed-income housing. Four buildings — the Crescent Club, Preserve, Gold Seal Lofts and the Meridian — brought nearly 800 units of housing to an area of Mid-City adjacent to both downtown and the courthouse by 2009. After that development was complete, however, the city’s climate had changed, Schwartz said. “We saw the film industry take hold; there was a re-envisioning of the city’s health care system with the development of the new Medical District; the charter school movement was well under way; the Idea Village was generating momentum and entrepreneurship,” he said. “Our thought process began shifting from delivering projects that help from a recovery perspective to helping advance this new economy in New Orleans, and its diversification and growth. We realized there would be a demand for downtown core housing.” There weren’t many buildings or areas in New Orleans’ downtown, however, that were big enough to allow Domain to develop on the large scale that they envisioned. Schwartz and Papamichael began eyeing the proliferation of surface parking lots along Girod Street and O’Keefe Avenue, knowing that the overall acreage those sites provided would allow them to make a significant impact. More 22 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org NOVEMBER 2017