New Orleans — It appears that eastern New Orleans will get a new Walmart, bringing the retail giant back to a part of the city that has seen a dearth of retail since Hurricane Katrina.
The City Council on Thursday approved several conditions the City Planning Commission recommended that would allow the big-box retailer to build a new 187,500-square-foot Walmart Supercenter at 6000 Bullard Ave. at Interstate 10.
Aimee Quirk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s economic adviser, pointed out that the project would increase not only jobs and revenue in the city but would bring to the east much-needed retail service, which has been lacking in the area since Katrina.
Before the storm, there was a Walmart at 6901 Bundy Road, but it never reopened. It was one of many businesses that never returned to an area whose nearly 70,000 residents make up nearly one-fifth of the city’s 343,000 population, according to U.S. Census data.
“For seven years this has been a plea, a quest, a cry,” Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson said.
Sylvia Scineaux-Richard, president of the Eastern New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission, said the effort to return a global retailer such as Walmart didn’t happen without much work by residents and government. She said it will provide the east with the momentum it needs to continue its recovery since it sends a message that businesses again have faith in the area.
The return of the store might spur not only other economic development but could also entice some former residents to return to the area, she said.
“That does send a message to folks to come back to the east because we have the kind of living that allows families to thrive and have a good quality of life,” she said during an interview.
The new store will be built on the site of the former Lakeland Medical Center. While the land is properly zoned for a project such as the proposed supercenter, the city had to remove existing conditional use ordinances that allowed the medical center to operate there. The council also had to approve a few waivers for signage, parking, fences and landscaping.
The planning commission approved the waivers early last month. No one spoke in opposition to the plan during a community meeting in May, nor during Thursday’s council meeting.
The existing medical center will be demolished to make way for the new store. Once the store is built and operating, it will add between 300 and 350 jobs to the city, said James Percy, an attorney for Walmart.
One of the waivers would increase the height of the store’s sign from 12 feet to 30 feet. The sign will be required to be set back from the street at a distance greater than the height of the sign.
Walmart also asked to be allowed to increase the number of parking spaces from 626 to 727, which the planning commission allowed. The typical number of parking spaces the company said it needs for a supercenter is 938, a decrease of 23 percent.
While city code requires 6-foot-wide planting beds for landscaping in front of the building, a waiver was granted to allow raised planters near the sidewalks. A fence that would surround the rear of the business would be allowed to be raised from 7 feet to 8 feet. That would allow a greater buffer to neighboring properties and help screen off the service area.
Tice White, a division manager for public affairs for Walmart, said it could take another 30 days until the formalities are completed but that the company hopes to break ground early in the first quarter of 2013. The expected construction time line would see work completed in about a year, in late 2013 or early 2014.
“That can depend on the weather, a lot of different variables … but the estimate is right at about 12 months,” White said.