Letter From Home: The charm remains in New Orleans

Canal Street. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

Canal Street. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

In today’s letter, New Orleans rebounds, and AIA Florida/Caribbean begins its People’s Choice awards voting:

If you follow me on Twitter (@htrealestate), you may have noticed I was in New Orleans recently for the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ convention. It is my favorite work-related event of the year.

Having it in New Orleans was an added bonus. We booked a late flight after the event concluded so we could spend the day exploring.

While in the Crescent City, I got a feeling for the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Basically, I didn’t see much. During a 2010 visit, I took a cab to the Lower Ninth Ward and was shocked at amount of empty land and ruined structures, and impressed by actor Brad Pitt’s “Build It Right” elevated houses.

I wasn’t able to make a return trip to the many areas that were flooded after Katrina, but locals estimated that the city is about 85 percent recovered. “A lot of the building is complete, but parts have not come back, such as New Orleans East,” said Tim Boone of The Advocate. “It is an ongoing process.” That area has a major redevelopment effort going on, and has seen population and investment rise.

One NAREE panel discussion focused on “Big Easy Resilience.” A few observations: n “Everyday people are talking about skyrocketing home prices,” said moderator Katherine Sayer of NOLA.com. Prices in the city are up 46 percent since the storm.

-- The hot neighborhoods, such as uptown, are raising the values, Boone said. “People never got crazy like in California and Florida,” he said. “People were not flipping and living beyond their means.” Prices in the Garden District and the Warehouse District, close to downtown, are low compared with other U.S. cities. n Downtown is vibrant because “people want the authenticity. There is stuff going on,” Boone said. “People are going to fight for New Orleans.”

-- New Orleans’ economy, which underwent great change even before Katrina, is diversifying because of tax incentives, Boone said. Technology businesses are “taking off.” A technology conference is timed to occur at the same time as the New Orleans Jazz Fest. n “The question was, was New Orleans worth saving?” said Stephanie Riegel of the Baton Rouge Business Report. Proposals to shrink the low-lying city after Katrina were politically and racially unpopular. The decision was made to recover. “A big influx of federal dollars helped,” she said, coupled with volunteering from faith-based groups and nonprofits. Often, the young volunteers returned as students at Tulane, or as young professionals. The city has benefited from private investment, both national and local.

“Beyond anything else, it was the passion that locals had for the community,” Riegel said. “The population tripled. All people could talk about was getting back to New Orleans once the parishes were open and people were allowed back in.

“There was anger over the fact that it was levee failures that resulted in the flooding,” Riegel said. “That was perceived as a failure of the Army Corps of Engineers, and that motivated the people to act. It wasn’t the storm, it was the flood.

“Even blighted areas are coming back. But the poorest and lowest-lying areas have not come back,” she said. Many New Orleans reside nts who evacuated to Baton Rouge or Houston still have not returned.

In their place are new residents with money, attracted by the architecture, authenticity and history, who are gentrifying the city’s older neighborhoods, Riegel said. “People are coming in with ideas of how New Orleans should be. There has been a lot of friction about that.

“The city is better in many ways, but it is different and not what it was before.”

Hat heaven

While in New Orleans, we made our way to the Goorin Bros. hat shop on Royal Street near Jackson Square.

I picked up three new hats, two of them on sale. I tried to make it to the famous Meyer the Hatter, founded in 1894, on St. Charles Avenue, but arrived after it had closed for the day. Next time. (Goorin is a newcomer — it was founded in 1895 in Pittsburgh.)

Hat photos are online at Facebook.com/harold.bubil. I’ve thrown in some NOLA photos, too.

Architecture: People’s Choice

What is your favorite new building?

The 3rd-annual People’s Choice competition was launched June 22 by the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Florida). Locally nominated projects include the Center for Architecture Sarasota’s McCulloch Pavilion (architects Bob Rupp and Joe Farrell, 1960, with 2015 renovation by architect Guy Peterson), Patriot Plaza (2014, Hoyt Architects) at Sarasota National Cemetery, the Playball Pavilion (2011, Sweet Sparkman Architects) located at Fruitville Park, and St. Thomas More Church (Carl Abbott, 1983, with 2013 addition by Julian Norman-Webb) in Gulf Gate.

More than 1 million votes were registered online for favorite buildings in the event’s first two years.

This year’s contest includes 39 buildings, nominated by local AIA chapters, including restaurants, cultural arts centers, schools, public parks and more.

Buildings up-for-vote also include historic structures that have been renovated.

The buildings nominated include notable public spaces that were entered into the AIA Florida/Caribbean Design Awards in 2015, as well as buildings nominated by each of the AIA Florida local components, all built in the past five years, or historic buildings renovated for public use within the past five years. Buildings must be located within Florida.

Vote at www.floridapeopleschoice.com until midnight, July 22. The results will be announced at the AIA Florida convention in Palm Beach on July 23.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: June 25, 2016
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