By Alan Williams, The Lens contributing opinion writer |
The proposed Mid-City Market is a bit like the 2006 Saints: a big improvement over prior efforts, but ultimately just not good enough. To be sure, a new grocery store on this site – in the 400 block of North Carrollton Avenue — is good. Winn-Dixie will provide residents more fresh food options and remove a big, blighted eyesore. Other than that, the proposal is disappointing. As envisioned, the Mid-City Market will work against the city’s economic development agenda, undercut the appeal of the long-awaited linear park, the Lafitte Greenway, and stunt the ongoing renaissance of Mid-City.
After thousands of New Orleanians devoted time and energy to the Master Plan, the old Bohn Ford and Harry’s Hardware properties that the shopping center will replace were deemed suitable for dense, mixed-use development. Residents of Mid-City identified this site as a potential magnet for new residents, businesses, and services due to its proximity to City Park, the streetcar and the adjacent new Greenway. They recognized the market opportunity to create a real destination that is pleasant, pedestrian-friendly and brimming with businesses residents want.
Instead, Stirling Properties has proposed something absolutely suburban: low-density, exclusively retail, and built to service automobiles first and people second. The proposal lacks both office space for new companies that want to locate in Mid-City and a critical mass of retail opportunities. It includes a few restaurants but no housing for new families that want to live in the area. There are no public amenities that will increase nearby property values.
The city has precious few opportunities to create vibrant, mixed-use places that will attract new residents, lure businesses, and raise property values. We desperately need this kind of growth to finance better public services, including upgraded water, power, and transportation — things every New Orleanian wants. Indeed, as federal funds wane, our prosperity increasingly depends on it.
Unfortunately for us, this is not typically a developer’s responsibility. It might work against their bottom line to include a mix of offices, retail and residences. It is up to citizens and municipal leaders to demand better, using regulatory leverage and the permitting process to negotiate with the developer. Only then will Stirling start to look beyond its current business plan. In the end, they may realize that a more ambitious, mixed-use development is in their best interest too.
Alan Williams is the community manager at Neighborland, an online tool through which residents can discuss businesses and services they want and learn how to navigate city processes necessary to get them.