Magnolia Marketplace project advances

A major new shopping center could be built in Central City, bringing with it a half-dozen big box stores that are not presently in Orleans Parish.

The City Planning Commission voted this week to approve plans for the Magnolia Marketplace that would rise on a vacant tract of land just off of the river side of South Claiborne Avenue between Toledano Street and Washington Avenue.

The commission, however, included several stipulations such as reducing the number of parking spaces the developers plan to provide and a smaller sign that, they said, would better fit with the neighborhood.

Developers wanted 484 spaces in a two-story parking garage but were told they must reduce that number to 314 spots. Additionally, a sign they intend to place at Claiborne and Toledano might rise no more than 12 feet, despite a request to be allowed a 37-foot sign.

The commission said a sign that tall would be too suburban for an inner-city neighborhood.

According to City Planning Commission documents, likely tenants of the 157,000-square-foot shopping center include Ross Dress for Less, TJ Maxx, Shoe Carnival, Ulta makeup and beauty supplies, PetSmart and a Michael’s arts and crafts store.

An unknown anchor tenant and another store would be housed on the first floor of the two-story shopping center.

Those involved with the project said the larger sign is necessary since the shopping center won’t actually sit on Claiborne Avenue and, they believe, will be less visible.

The land where the shopping center will be built is behind a Subway that will be torn down and replaced with a Raising Cane’s chicken store, which is part of the project, an existing McDonald’s, First Mount Calvary Baptist Church, a small strip mall and a Taco Bell that is under construction.

Larger signage is needed to ensure that people know the shopping center exists, developers said.

“These retailers are paying extremely top-dollar rents to be in this location,” Townsend Underhill, vice president for development for Stirling Properties, a co-developer, told the planning commission.

“Our ability to be able to deliver things such as parking and signage are critical in order to make it go forward.”

City Council President Stacy Head said the project has been in the works for about seven years and is badly needed to keep jobs and tax dollars in the city.

“This is critical,” she said Friday.

She said the location is ideal since about 55,000 vehicles pass the intersection every day.

Aimee Quirk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s adviser for economic development, shared those thoughts, adding that it would bring “much-needed retail” to the corridor.

“My office and the New Orleans Business Alliance look forward to continuing to work with the developers and other stakeholders to bring this economic development project to fruition,” Quirk said in a prepared statement.

The only objections raised came from the pastor of the neighboring First Mount Calvary Baptist Church.

The Rev. Ulysses Landry said he was worried initial plans to close off a block-long stretch of Sixth Street that leads to the church would have detrimental effects for the 96-year-old house of worship. He also said he worried the two-story parking garage would overshadow the church.

Those fears were allayed a bit when the developers and planning commission said there were no longer plans to close off the dead-end street.

Still, Landry said, he believed the land should remain residential. The parcel where the stores are planned was formerly part of the old C.J. Peete housing development, originally known as the Magnolia, which lends its name to the shopping center.

A construction timeline and cost for the project were not immediately available.

The final decision about the shopping center’s future will be up to the City Council.