Carrollton Avenue between Bienville Street and Orleans Avenue has come to be known — not so affectionately — as Little Metairie. The Mid-City Market opened in 2013 with a mix of local shops sharing space with suburban storefronts, a sprawling parking lot and national chains like Panera Bread, Pei Wei Asian Diner, Pizza Hut and Office Depot. Anchoring the development is Winn-Dixie, setting up shop across Carrollton from its grocery store competitor Rouses.
Both developments share space with the burgeoning Lafitte Greenway, an ambitious 2.6-mile "linear" park, pedestrian and bike path and green space that spans from Treme's Louis Armstrong Park to Lakeview. A bike lane runs alongside Rouses and crosses Carrollton to the Mid-City Market.
Rouses, meanwhile, bought the massive Home Depot lot next door for $7.3 million when that store closed in 2013. A park-like area of the Greenway — with current designs showing water and pet fountains, covered pavilions, benches and bike repair stations — will be built between Rouses and the former Home Depot, which remains untouched and covered with graffiti. But not for long.
CVS pharmacy and site developer First Hartford Realty will begin construction on the Home Depot lot at 500 N. Carrollton this summer, with several building phases through 2015 and into 2016. Home Depot will be partially demolished, and the remaining portion of the building will be renovated. Early plans and renderings show a development resembling a smaller version of the Mid-City Market, with buildings for five tenants, including CVS — two in the Home Depot building, two on the side of the lot near Rouses, and CVS. CVS will occupy a building near the front of the lot, but the remaining tenants have not yet been selected. (Under an agreement with Rouses, the developer can't build another grocery store.)
The CVS development is one of the last projects to be approved under the city's former Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, dovetailing with one of the hallmarks of the city's Master Plan, the Lafitte Greenway. But Mid-City residents fear it could become another strip mall of national retailers, stucco and parking lots.
Mid-City residents offered their ideas for what they'd like to see in the new development at a May 18 meeting inside The Cannery on Orleans Avenue, a few blocks from the site. Jennifer Farwell, with the Citizens Against Unsympathetic and Suburban Encroachment (CAUSE), emceed an informal design charette to gather a "top 10" list to present to the developers. The loss of a Home Depot was a blow to the neighborhood — people at the meeting unanimously agreed the development should include a hardware store.
Residents also are concerned about traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians using the Greenway and their safe passage near Carrollton as well as the delivery trucks navigating the fragile neighborhoods, trees, power lines and streets to unload at the development. Poor drainage, they said, could damage surrounding properties if there isn't a properly designed water management plan. The group also urged the developer to perform a traffic study, citing the heavily trafficked Mid-City Market and its neutral ground turning areas as potential obstacles with another large development directly across the street.
As for the tenants, residents gave a big "no" to chains (particularly Starbucks). Residents requested local restaurants and local businesses with an emphasis on affordable storefront rent. Ideas included soft goods stores (for linens, clothes and other home goods), a microbrewery, a musical instrument store, a dry cleaner and tailor, and a gift shop for greeting cards and flowers — though many agreed CVS would likely scuttle that idea if it competed with its merchandise. Residents also suggested adding a shared workspace for small businesses, and rooftop solar panels, parking and community gardens, as well as amenities like an art market, farmers market, outdoor movie theater or skating rink.
The site, they said, should also offer more than five tenants (initial plans called for nine). They agreed the buildings should be broken into smaller spaces to make room for more local businesses.
Farwell said site planners will prepare the group's "alternate version" of the development by mid-June.
Avery Cootes, an urban planner with Sherman Strategies, which is consulting with First Hartford, said the developer is willing to take residents' ideas into consideration. Cootes said she can't share a more precise timeline for the development, but at the meeting she said CVS could break ground on the site as early as July.
Sophie Harris, director of the Friends of the Lafitte Corridor (FOLC), said the CVS development is an important juncture on the Greenway.
"It's one of the key nodes where there's amazing opportunity to do a development that really creates a new neighborhood space and really contributes to the Greenway experience and makes a positive impact on a Mid-City neighborhood," she said. "It's also an intersection of a new bike and pedestrian path, and the streetcar, and a pedestrian-friendly shopping area. It's a really key intersection and we see real opportunity."
FOLC has been leading the charge to rally neighborhoods and raise money for the Greenway over the last eight years. As of May 1, more than 90 percent of the overall Greenway construction is complete, according to a Department of Public Works (DPW) status report. DPW expects the Greenway will be "finished" by this summer, just as ground is broken on the adjacent CVS construction.
"What happens on the Greenway is important," said Jeff Schwartz, director of Broad Community Connections. "[The development] is a real opportunity to do something that contributes to the vibrancy of the Greenway."
The Greenway, Harris said, is really composed of two plans: the greenway itself, including the plans for amenities and its design — and the investment opportunities. The Lafitte Corridor Revitalization Plan "looks at opportunities in the surrounding neighborhoods and how the Greenway can stimulate investment in development that's really positive for the neighborhood, that is pedestrian-friendly, and really embraces and enhances the experience of utilizing the Greenway," she said.
As for the CVS plans and Mid-City residents' input, FOLC hasn't made any recommendations yet.
"We're still reviewing it," she said. "The developer has been reaching out into the community for input, and they've made some substantive changes, which are a step in the right direction already."