Covering Louisiana

Oct 13, 2013 1:47 PM by katc

New Orleans takes a step toward Bywater development

The city has taken ownership of the former Navy facility along the Mississippi River in the Bywater neighborhood.

The New Orleans Advocate reports the transfer is a step toward realizing long-standing ambitions to redevelop the 25-acre site.

Plans have moved slowly for years to transform the former Naval Support Activity-East Bank site into an emergency operations center for disaster management staff, as well as retail, housing and education facilities.

Even after the transfer from the federal government, it's not clear when those plans might actually bear fruit.

The developer Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration chose for the site - a joint venture called EMDRC Partners - still must seal a long-term lease with the city, then find grant money to pay for revamping existing structures and building new ones.

In a statement, Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble said the city took over the property Oct. 4 and hopes to reach an agreement with EMDRC on upkeep of the facility while the two sides hash out a lease.

The base transfer comes at no charge to local taxpayers, as part of an "economic development conveyance" rather than a sale, Gamble said.

Former New Orleans homeland security chief Col. Terry Ebbert, a member of the joint venture, said he expects development of the site to play out in different phases over several years.

He couldn't say how much the project will cost, though previous estimates ranged as high as $90 million.

"It all depends on what the final usage is," Ebbert said. "It'll take a period of time over several years to fully develop the site. You're talking about 1.6 million square feet."

Built by the Army in 1919, the base became a deployment hub during World War II known as the Port of Embarkation, then served as a Navy support facility beginning in 1996. It's been vacant since 2011, when the Navy closed it as part of a national base realignment and closure program, leaving a huge swath of potentially valuable real estate in one of the city's most desirable neighborhoods.

The site includes three six-story buildings, recreational facilities and an open area the military once used as a parade ground.

A plan approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2011 calls for an emergency operations center, multifamily housing, shops and training facilities.

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