Before Hurricane Katrina hit, the termination of Tulane Avenue at South Hennessey Street in New Orleans had its problems. The Baumer Foods plant, with its iconic “Crystal Preserves” neon sign, rolled semis laden with Crystal Hot Sauce bottles over the local streets 24/7, and food processing smells relegated the neighborhood to a dusty barbershop, a TV repair store, and some dilapidated housing.
Like many Big Easy neighborhoods, Katrina made things worse, rendering the Baumer plant unusable. The streets were destroyed, remaining residents were reticent to new development, and the area wasn’t even zoned for multifamily. But The Domain Cos. principals Matt Schwartz and Chris Papamichael—both of whom went to Tulane University—saw promise in the site and made it the anchor in the firm’s $125 million reinvention of the Tulane Corridor.
Location: New Orleans
Builder: Gibbs Construction
Developer: The Domain Cos.
Architect: Humphreys & Partners Architects
Opened: December 2008
No. of Units: 183
Unit Mix: One- and two-bedroom apartments
Prices: $240 to $695 per month
“We’ve learned a lot working in high-barrier markets in New York and how to work through community concerns,” Schwartz says. “But New Orleans was a different experience.” To get the property rezoned, the firm worked with the state to develop a mixed-use and mixed-income program. Meanwhile, they reached out to the local community—where the term “mixed-income” was seen as a moniker for “project” housing likely to seal the micro-market’s fate. “The few neighborhood proponents there were hosted crawfish boils so we could explain our vision to the community,” Schwartz says.
And what a vision that was. Domain cleaned up a littered Baumer site, worked with the city to procure $1.5 million to rebuild four local roads and utility infrastructure, and constructed The Preserve, a 143-unit mixed-income community that exceeds Louisiana’s green building standards.
Property amenities include Wi-Fi access. two landscaped courtyards, a pool, fitness center, clubhouse with a theater, business center, even an ATM. Domain worked hard to activate those amenities with its “MyDomain” suite of resident services, including daily continental breakfast, accent wall painting at move-in, cooking classes, and New Orleans Saints game day BBQ parties—with Crystal Hot Sauce, of course.
The Preserve marks the beginning of Domain’s efforts to reinvigorate the city. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Domain purchased 30 dilapidated houses for rebuilding and renovated the neighborhood’s St. Patrick Park with new baseball fields. Where the barbershop stood is now a high-end pizza joint and a café. “We’ve brought life back to this neighborhood,” Schwartz says. “We are starting to see changes that we would not have seen had that site languished.”
EDITORS’ CHOICE AWARD: The editors of Multifamily Executive are proud to recognize The Preserve by The Domain Cos. as the recipient of the 2009 Editors’ Choice Award. More than any other project, The Preserve epitomized the efforts made by all of our 2009 entrants to transform their neighborhoods and submarkets with creative and, at times, extremely challenging solutions to difficult real estate sites. The Preserve shows how great multifamily housing can reenergize, reinvigorate, and redefine the local community.