New shopping center OK’d

Developers expect to break ground this summer on a major shopping center planned for Central City after the City Council voted Thursday to approve its construction.

The Magnolia Marketplace will bring to the city a half-dozen big box stores that operate in the metro area but not in New Orleans proper.

The shopping center will be built on a vacant tract just off the river side of South Claiborne Avenue between Toledano Street and Washington Avenue.

The council voted 7-0 to approve the project. The site is in Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s district.

Townsend Underhill, vice president for development for Stirling Properties, a co-developer, said shortly after the council’s vote that work is expected to begin in June and be completed by fall 2014.

While the Planning Commission last month included several stipulations, such as reducing the number of parking spaces, in its approval, Cantrell restored some of the developers’ original plans.

Benjamin Plener, Cantrell’s legislative director, said the shopping center will be allowed to have 482 parking spaces and a 37-foot sign at Claiborne and Toledano.

Developers had sought 484 spaces in a two-story garage but were told they had to reduce that number to 314 spots.

Additionally, the Planning Commission hoped to limit the shopping center’s sign to 12 feet. The planning commission had said its suggestions would provide for a better fit with the neighborhood.

According to 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. Developers did not specify what outlet will eventually fill that space.

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.

City Council President Stacy Head has 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. The location is ideal, she said, since about 55,000 vehicles pass the intersection every day.

“This will allow our citizens to be able to buy basic goods in their neighborhoods in the city, generating not only jobs but sales tax revenue,” Aimee Quirk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s adviser for economic development, told the council.

No one spoke Thursday in objection to the project. The only problem developers faced was resolved before December’s planning commission meeting.

The planned shopping center sits behind several structures that front Claiborne Avenue, among then First Mount Calvary Baptist Church.

The Rev. Ulysses Landry said at the time he was worried that plans to close off a block-long stretch of Sixth Street that leads to his 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.

Developers and the Planning Commission soothed those fears a bit when they said those plans were no longer in the works.

Cantrell said she was able to “build consensus” between the church and developers, who now agree on all aspects of the project.

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.