By Eliza Theiss, Associate Editor
Not so long ago, New Orleans was considered one of the most under-served markets for retail developments and shopping locations. And even though at the moment the Big Easy is still well under the national average, the past year has brought an onslaught of retail development proposals. Quite a few of those, some the result of several years of effort, have finally been approved.
Such is the case with the Walmart store that will replace the shuttered Gentilly Woods shopping center at the corner of Chef Menteur Highway and Press Drive. The Times-Picayune reports that the New Orleans City Planning Commission has approved the national retailer’s plans. Excepting a denial from the New Orleans City Council, the Chef Menteur Highway Walmart is a sure thing. The store will be developed on the 12.2 acres formerly occupied by the Katrina-marred Gentilly Woods shopping center. It will feature 118,000 square feet of retail space and a 650-foot-deep parking lot with 481 spaces – 100 less then it wanted, but 100 more than New Orleans City Planning staff usually allow and recommended for this project.
As previously reported on this page, Walmart first approached the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) in 2008 with plans to redevelop the blighted shopping mall. It then proposed to purchase the property for $4.3 million, but the deal fell through and the site continued to be an eyesore until 2012, when talks were restarted between the two entities. The national retail chain closed on the site in the second quarter of 2012, paying $3 million and agreeing to handle and pay for demolition and any contamination remediation cost that may arise. Another stipulation made by the city at the time of the sale was the retailer committing to hire employees from disadvantaged and minority groups both during development and when staffing the store.
Walmart will reportedly spend $13.4 million developing the store, which is expected to open in early 2014. The national retailer is developing another location in Eastern New Orleans – a Walmart Supercenter expected to open in fall 2013 on Bullard Avenue.
Bullard Avenue is also the location for another retail development recently approved by the New Orleans City Council. According to a report by The Times-Picayune, Ohio-based Big Lots, a national chain selling mostly close-out and overstock merchandise, will open a 33,500-square-foot store at 6011 Bullard Ave. Big Lots had a nearby store before the storm, but made no attempts to reopen until now. The new store will boast 168 parking spaces – 50 percent more than recommended.
Photo courtesy of Walmart’s Facebook Profile