by Ariella Cohen
A 27-year-old real estate developer and former nightclub owner has broken ground on a $1.75-million apartment complex in Kenner’s Rivertown neighborhood, a first sign of progress for Mayor Ed Muniz’s long-brewing plan to create a vibrant downtown in the historic town center.
The 45-unit Riverview Apartments community, which will be gated and include courts for horseshoes and tetherball, will replace an assisted-living facility and hospital at 1039 Third St., well within the borders of the Third Street Corridor mapped for new retail, residential and commercial development by Muniz soon after he took office in 2006.
Riverview is the first of several high-end residential projects planned for South Kenner, said developer Josh Bruno, a Tulane University dropout who got his start as an entrepreneur at Club Ampersand, a nightspot he founded with partner Billy Blatty in the Central Business District of New Orleans.
“I see a demand in South Kenner for higher-end rentals for young professionals who don’t want to live in New Orleans and aren’t ready to buy a home,” said Bruno, who plans to open a Kenner office in the near future.
Bruno’s vision for an upscale, family friendly community coincides with Muniz’s goal to bring new investment to Rivertown, which has struggled to attract investment even though it is a historic district with attractions and elevation above the flood plain.
“New residential development is definitely part of the plan,” said Mike Quigley, deputy chief administrative officer for Kenner. “Rivertown and the (vacant land around the airport) are areas that beg for a redevelopment, (which would) help bring back a tax base the city needs and generate more restaurants and stores for people in the area.”
Just a few blocks from Bruno’s Riverview Apartments sits another site high on the city’s redevelopment radar: the old Kenner High School on Third and Duncan streets, which has been vacant since 1994.
The red brick schoolhouse built in 1924 was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Within several weeks, the city plans to invite developers to propose plans for its commercial redevelopment, Quigley said.
“We are looking to someone to turn the high school into a retail or office development,” he said. The historic designation means any developer who leases the building for commercial use would not be able to change the building’s façade in any significant way, according to federal guidelines.
Bruno, who has expressed interest in the old school building, sees the potential for a population boom in Rivertown.
“It is high ground and there is room to grow and a large population of people who want to live in the area,” he said.
Bruno is not the first to scope Rivertown as a potential hot spot. In 1982, then-Mayor Aaron Brousard funded the creation of eight museums, a park and two theaters in the 16-block commercial district. The new attractions were intended to inject new life and revenue into the aging downtown.
In 2006, a monthly average of 5,501 tickets were sold for Rivertown attractions, earning $16,532, according to the city. Data for 2007 was not available, but museums, subsidized by the city to the tune of $400,000 a year, never made the kind of economic impact sought by city officials, Muniz has said.
His plan includes revenue-generating elements intended to inject some new cash into the district in order to make it less financially dependent on the city, Quigley said.
“We are looking at putting retail in the museum buildings,” Quigley said.•