Tulane Envisions New 'Square'

February 2, 2004

Carol J. Schlueter
Phone: (504) 865-5714

University Square Like a cat with nine lives, the property bordered by Broadway and Leake Avenue keeps emerging with new life. The next incarnation could once again make it a vital development with a $150 million, multi-year Tulane project that would answer many growth problems faced by the nearby uptown campus.

Tulane purchased half of the Uptown Square retail site in 2001, gaining 5.9 acres of parking lots and mostly empty retail buildings. The property has been in commercial and industrial use for decades--the site of a molasses factory for 65 years and shopping center for 25.

Although Tulane didn't have specific plans when the site was purchased, says Mike Jester, director of capital projects, it held promise because of its proximity to campus, size and favorable zoning for development.

"Where else in uptown New Orleans will we find five contiguous acres of land that you can develop? It just doesn't exist." On Dec. 22 the master land-use plan for the renamed "Tulane University Square" was filed with the city planning commission. No zoning variances or waivers are needed, says Anne Banos, vice president and chief of staff.

If approvals go well, the existing retail buildings could be razed in about two years to make way for Tulane's largest-ever construction project:

- A 120,000-square foot, four-story building for administrative offices.
- A two-story facility for the Newcomb nursery and child-care center.
- A combination parking structure, health-care facility and conference center. It would vary in height from two to 10 stories.
- A 13-story, 222-unit structure for married and graduate student apartments, a replacement for the aging Rosen House on the uptown campus.

The commission held a public hearing on the project on Jan. 27. The issue could come before the New Orleans City Council by April. Current plans show only functions and sizes of new construction because the design phase will come later, Banos says. After city council approval, Tulane will secure financing, a partnership with a developer and architects.

Landlocked on its St. Charles campus, Tulane is in dire need of room to grow, say administrators. Jester says, "There are things the university would like to do on the academic side of the house, but there's no space to do it."

Collette Creppell, university architect and director of campus planning, points out that having University Square will free up space on the main campus "to focus on the undergraduate living/learning environment and help us achieve that part of our strategic plan."

"As the largest private employer in New Orleans," Banos adds, "Tulane generates jobs and revenue for the city of New Orleans and this project is about maintaining that growth." By building the new living quarters for graduate students, Jester adds, Tulane will increase its ability "to attract high-quality graduate students, and they play a definite part in our institutional research efforts with faculty." Tulane has been communicating for several months with groups of neighbors who live near the property, some of whom have expressed opposition to the development.

Cathy Pierson, chair of the Tulane Board, lives nearby and believes the project will enhance the quality of the neighborhood. "I appreciate the interest and concern our neighbors have in a development of this size and look forward to an ongoing dialogue among the interested constituents," Pierson says.

She points to Tulane's growth in national stature, in federal research dollars (doubled over the last decade) and a dramatic increase in student quality. "The addition of a new campus on the Uptown Square site will allow this progress to continue." Tulane has done significant work in planning to try and mitigate the impact of the project on the neighborhood, Creppell said. Taller buildings will be placed on the Leake Avenue side, while lower structures will face the residential area.

The parking facility will keep cars from parking on neighborhood streets and traffic improvements will help circulation. Green space, landscaping and beautification are included as "planning principles." Banos adds, "We're going to take a property that is now semi-abandoned and unattractive and provide a new, vibrant, mixed-use development."

Neighbors also will be getting "the most stable ownership anyone would want" in Tulane, Creppell says, pointing to Tulane's 120 years on St. Charles Avenue. "When Tulane commits to a place, it means very long term stability, enhancements to the property, attractive buildings, security and all of the things that go with that."

Banos would welcome any Tulane employees who want to show support for the project to write letters to City Councilman John A. Batt Jr., City Hall, Room 2W80, 1300 Perdido St., New Orleans, LA 70112.

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