Kenner strikes deal to develop Laketown

The city is poised to finally move forward with plans to transform its Laketown into a vibrant commercial and recreational center, thanks to a complicated land deal involving the city, Jefferson Parish and the state.

Kenner officials are hoping to annex property from Jefferson Parish, then combine that property with four parcels Kenner already leases from the state to create a roughly 15.6-acre parcel, said Mike Quigley, Kenner’s chief administrative officer.

The Jefferson Parish Council is scheduled to vote on that annexation at its Dec. 12 meeting, and the Kenner Council will discuss the issue Dec. 6.

After the annexation, Kenner would turn the land back over to the state, and state officials would try to entice a private developer to come in and transform the area into a retail hub, Quigley said.

City officials hope to blend retail developments with the existing recreational elements to create a regional attraction. City Councilman Keith Reynaud, whose district includes Laketown, said the new development could be an economic boon for his district and the entire city.

“It would be the driving engine for further development,” said Reynaud, who added developing Laketown has been a priority for him since his election. “It’s kind of like Lake Pont-
chartrain used to be 20 or 30 years ago.”

Kenner officials have been discussing the redevelopment of Laketown for years and even created a master plan for that development in 2008. Laketown is located behind the Lake Pont-chartrain levee at the northern end of Williams Boulevard and currently features biking and walking trails, recreational shelters, a fishing pier and a small concession stand.

The 2008 proposal called for the area to include an amphitheater, boardwalk, skateboard park, condominiums and retail stores.

Right now, the only major commercial development on the site is the Treasure Chest Casino, which occupies slightly more than 13 acres.

But plans to develop Laketown have always been stymied by funding. Kenner couldn’t afford to spend millions redeveloping the site, and couldn’t sell the property because it’s owned by the state. But, with the state leading the push to find a developer, Quigley thinks it could make a huge difference.

In the end, no matter who develops the land, Kenner benefits, he said.

“We know there are some people with means, retail developers, who want to come out and develop this,” Quigley said. “That would just spur economic development and bring people to Kenner… We’ve already done all of the legwork with the state.”

Once the city and state work out the final details on the changes to the existing recreational lease, the state will move forward seeking proposals, said Michael DiResto, the assistant commissioner of police and communications for the Division of Administration. Those proposals will be shaped by a “plan of development” developed in conjunction with the city, he said.

Parish Councilman E. Ben Zahn III said when Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni approached him about doing the land deal, he immediately saw it as a positive for the entire parish.

Zahn, a former Kenner councilman, said even though the parish is losing land, it could easily gain much more economically.

“You’re getting nothing from that area right now,” Zahn said.

Reynaud said as the city collaborates with the state and the private sector on the project, it’s important be aggressive in shaping the new development.

Laketown’s development could spur improvements at Treasure Chest, or even bring in enough visitors to end subsidies at the city’s Pontchartrain Center, he said.

But, whatever is built has to fit, or it could just become another headache for the city.

“We have a prime piece of real estate, and it’s something people want,” Reynaud noted. “I believe the city needs to come in and let the state know exactly what kind of development we want.”