Gentilly Wal-Mart  gets the go-ahead

A Gentilly strip mall, blighted and abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, will soon meet the wrecking ball after the City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve construction of a Wal-Mart on the site.

A planned 118,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter will replace the Gentilly Woods shopping center on Chef Menteur Highway at Press Drive. The project, including demolition of the existing mall, is expected to cost about $13 million and be completed by mid-2014.

“On behalf of District D, I want to tell you we’ve been waiting anxiously for this for over three years,” said District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who represents the neighborhood. “We can’t wait for cranes in the sky.

“We’ll first tear it (the old mall) down, then put the cranes in the sky. But we can’t wait for you to tear it down first.”

Wal-Mart requested a waiver to allow 481 spaces, about 100 fewer spaces than a regular Supercenter has but about 100 more than the City Planning Commission suggested. The planning commission staff said the store should be able to operate with 385 spaces, based on big-box-store regulations, but the planning commission last month overrode the staff suggestion and OK’d the larger parking lot.

It also agreed to several other waivers, including the number and size of signs attached to the building, but rejected the staff’s suggestion of a second walkway in the parking lot.

This is the second Wal-Mart the council has approved in recent months.

The body voted in November to allow another store at Interstate 10 and Bullard Avenue in eastern New Orleans. That store is also expected to open in late 2013 or early 2014.

“We need more. Keep going,” council Vice President Jackie Clarkson told Wal-Mart’s representatives after Thursday’s vote.