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Top 10 Influencers

New Orleans’ top real estate professionals share what excites and challenges them about the upcoming year.




Courtesy of Thinkstock; all other photographs by Romero & Romero

Real estate is an important force in our national, state and local economy — last year it made up 6 percent of our country’s G.D.P.

National trends like slower rising home prices and an increase in movement away from the suburbs and into urban centers are on display here in New Orleans. Local home sale price increases have gone from double digit increases annually just a few years ago to now the low single digits. They’re still increasing, albeit much more slowly. The condo market downtown, meanwhile has exploded, causing some to question if we’re reaching a saturation point.

There’s a lot on the minds of today’s real estate professionals — both those focused on residential and commercial — so in our third-annual real estate issue, Biz brought together some of the area’s key players in a wide array of real estate specialties and asked them to share their celebrations and their concerns heading into a new year.

Among their answers are a celebration of recent accomplishments like the Lafitte Greenway, the growth of the historic district and an increase in options for shared workspaces. The city is seeing an increased focus on sustainability in an era where talks of climate change dominate national conversation and a much-needed recognition that a lack of affordable housing remains a dominant citywide issue.

While we celebrate our accomplishments, challenges lay ahead and they range from ever-present flooding and storm water issues to uncertainties over increasing interest rates. In those problems, however, lie opportunities. For some companies that means branching out from slowing or saturated markets like multifamily housing or malls, for others it may mean working together to draw new business to our region or embracing sustainable technologies in an effort to lead our region into the future.


Cullan Maumus

Development Director, New Orleans Redevelopment Fund

New Orleans Redevelopment Fund is a private company focused on redeveloping New Orleans neighborhoods.

Upcoming project: $4 million mixed-use development of former Times Picayune warehouse in Mid-City expected to be completed in early 2018.

Most excited about…

Personally, we have a number of projects that will be coming online in the next year that I believe will “move the needle” in Mid-City. In addition to a few adaptive re-use projects, where we are converting historic buildings into apartments and office space, we hope our mixed-use/ condo project priced to target teachers, nurses and first responders will be transformative for the immediate area.

We are constantly looking for opportunities to help address the city’s issues with blight and affordability, and believe we are honing in on scalable models that can successfully address both. I believe the Banks Street corridor between S. Jefferson Davis Parkway and Broad Street will be a dramatically different place for the better in the next year or two and I am extremely excited to be a part of the transformation.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of residential units scheduled to be placed in service over the next year in various multi-family developments. I’m curious to see how efficiently the market absorbs these units. For our company, the biggest challenge will be to accurately identify trends and data while maintaining our ability to respond to market changes.

With local elections on the horizon, I believe the biggest challenge for the city’s real estate market will be the timing of any potential housing or development regulations advanced by the new council or mayor. We are beginning to see a leveling in the market, with many new units starting to correct the imbalance of supply and demand. Certain regulations  — while well intentioned — could severely impact the market in the city if not enacted without considering the downward pressure already being experienced.

 


 

Nicole Webre

Owner, Webre Consulting, Owner & Developer, Livewell Properties, LLC

Notable Project: Bakery Village — residential subdivision in New Orleans’ Irish Channel

Most excited about…

My niche in the real estate industry is a very unique one in that I advise clients on zoning and permitting and I also use my knowledge in my own real estate developments. I like to say I practice what I preach. I am most excited about the growth of historic districts in Orleans Parish and the implementation of building design guidelines that require the use of more sustainable and appropriate building materials. The result is that New Orleans will have quality, not just quantity, when it comes to new or redeveloped properties. More thought and care in construction equals longer lasting buildings and homes which promotes stronger communities.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

The biggest challenge in the next year for the Gulf Coast is learning to live with water and plan for water. As we have seen in Houston and Baton Rouge, flooding is not just for low-lying areas but a fact of life for Gulf Coast cities and towns. We must think long term and plan for future events. The responsibility is not just on government, but also on land owners and developers to utilize best practices for storm water management and build responsibly so that green space is maximized and new developments do not burden surrounding properties.

 


 

Cres Gardner

Vice President, Beau Box Real Estate

Winner of Overall Top Producer of 2016 and F. Poche Waguespack Award, Top Landlord Office Lease, Top Tenant Representative Office Lease and Overall Top Office Sale at the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors (NOMAR) Commercial Investment Division (CID) 24th Annual Achievement Awards ceremony.

Most excited about…

The New Orleans Central Business District (CBD) has experienced an incredible transition over the past 10 years. A significant increase in apartments, hotel rooms and condos spurred retail and restaurant development creating a true “live, work, play” environment.

New Orleans has the environment large companies are looking for to please the growing millennial workforce. Companies that left years ago for the suburbs are now looking to relocate back into the CBD as employees seek to walk to the plentiful dining and entertainment venues.

Marketing the re-emergence of the New Orleans CBD will be critical to translating our progress into jobs. The commercial real estate community must work with economic developers to create enticing incentives to draw new business in the city. Our dynamic environment is what “corporate America” is looking for, and we need to let them know we are here and open for business.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

There is a natural real estate cycle that consistently plays out across the country, and as a market recovers, existing properties become full, spurring new development. As that new development succeeds, more projects are built that ultimately increase supply beyond demand.

This is certainly playing out in multifamily and condo development in metro New Orleans and will create opportunities for savvy operators to pick up failing condo and apartment projects for only a fraction of their construction costs. It will be our job as brokers to encourage our clients to look past the negative headlines and seize opportunities where others are retreating.

 


 

Jeffrey Schwartz

Executive Director, Broad Community Connections

Broad Community Connections develops real estate projects in service of larger community development and public policy goals. The organization’s focus is reavitalizing Broad Street from Tulane Avenue to Bayou Road as a vibrant and equitable commercial district.

Most excited about…

I am really excited about the dramatic increase in the recognition of the importance of affordability for both residential and commercial real estate in New Orleans — a result of the hard work of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, Mayor Landrieu’s administration, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, the Fair Housing Action Center and other partners and leaders. There are a number of imminent policy and financial tools that will be coming online over the coming year that will make high-impact and affordable real estate development an especially dynamic and fun part of the real estate market to be working in, not just over the next year, but for the next decade or more.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

Over the coming year, one of our biggest challenges is going to be sustaining momentum that will actually create financial tools, public policies and the right partnerships in order to be able to tackle the issues of affordability and the widening gap between rich and poor. In order to make sure everyone has access to quality and affordable real estate — whether a renter, a prospective homeowner, or a small business owner — we need to be really innovative and resourceful in how we use our limited resources to create real estate projects that benefit not just developers, but communities and the city as a whole. But I am optimistic we can do it!

 


 

Michael Merideth & Andre Lewis

CEO & Co-Founder, VPG Enterprise
COO & Co-Founder, VPG Enterprise

VPG Enterprise is a real estate development, construction and management group with a portfolio that includes over $12 million in residential real estate assets.

Upcoming Project: 37 Hundred, a luxury townhome development in Mid-City.

Most excited about…

We are extremely excited to see how the continued development of the Lafitte Greenway will affect Mid-City and the landscape of New Orleans. We are thrilled to see the affect it will have on New Orleans based on previous case studies of other cities like Austin, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta. With the addition of rental housing, luxury condominiums, retail, and simply the elimination of blight that is slated over the next year in this corridor, we have no doubt Mid-City will continue to be one of the most desirable neighborhoods in New Orleans.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

One of the biggest challenges is going to be managing affordability and market correction. New Orleans has been blessed over the last several years with record breaking real estate trends on both the rental and sales market; however, we are starting to see a correction in sales, rental rates and occupancy. Even with this correction, there has not been a decrease in development costs, i.e. construction costs, insurance premiums and infrastructure implementation.

Managing these conditions, along with creating solutions for the overall affordability crisis in our city, will be a major strategic item for VPG over the next year. It will be our charge to look at creative development solutions around construction methods, deal structures and financing mechanisms to continue to provide high quality housing.

 


 

Susan Brennan

President/CEO, Second Line Stages Developer

Notable Projects: Second Line Stages, 300 Girod St. condos, 401 Girod St. apartments, 425 Notre Dame condos, 1530 Constance St. offices

Most excited about…

My business is renting to films and television productions, and recently I have seen the film industry picking up quite a bit. The tax credits do not have a sunset, so the productions should start coming back to Louisiana. That means the rental market should increase as we get back the several hundreds of people who left for Georgia. I am working on a small rental property with hopefully 14 units with my two son-in-laws and my daughter, which I feel very bullish about.

I’m also bullish on the shared workspaces, which I do not think have maxed out. As the entrepreneurial community continues to grow, many are looking toward collaboration. The concept of shared conference rooms, copy rooms and top-of-the-line fiber optics seems like a no-brainer for the small business.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

I think the biggest challenge will be the amount of high-end condos coming online in 2018 in the CBD. I counted over 250 and I hope New Orleans will appeal to enough people (locals and frequent visitors) to absorb all of those condos. I live in the CBD and I love it! Downtown is the new Uptown!

 


 

Marcel Wisznia

President, Wisznia | Architecture + Development

Wisznia | Architecture + Development specializes in repurposing midrise and high-rise buildings into mixed-use / multifamily developments using design-driven development.

Notable Projects: Union Lofts, The Maritime and The Saratoga.

Most excited about…

I’m really excited about our next two Downtown New Orleans developments as they represent a departure for us.

The first is Stephens Garage — the repurposing of a historic 1951 vintage car dealership and parking garage into 21,000 square feet of ground floor retail, 51 apartments and 11 condominiums. The uniqueness is that we are removing the existing car ramps, and replacing them with two automobile elevators. Tenants and owners will be able to park their cars on the same floor that they live on, virtually right in front of their dwelling units. Construction is slated to begin at the end of September, with completion by the end of 2018.

Backing up to this site, at the corner of St. Charles and St. Joseph streets is a surface parking lot with two small historic buildings on one corner.

This project, which we have nicknamed “Two Saints” will focus on affordable housing, but not in a traditional manner. The housing type is known as co-living, and rents will be based on 100 percent of the area median income.
The typical apartment will be a four-bedroom, four-bathroom unit and individuals or couples will rent on a per-bedroom basis. Two Saints will be one of a kind in New Orleans and will give many people who don’t have the financial ability to live downtown the ability to do so.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

As a community, we need to give our residents the confidence that dramatic changes in weather patterns will not sink New Orleans. We need to learn to live with global climate change, not ignore it. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand.

 


 

Paul Richard

Senior Associate, NAI Latter & Blum

Richard is past president of the CID (Commercial Investment Division of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors), president of the LACDB (Louisiana Commercial Database), commercial director of the Louisiana Realtor Association and program manager for the Economic Real Estate and Forecast Symposium.

Most excited about…

One exciting aspect of the market is the 1031 real estate exchange. As a result of the long recovery and run up in value, many investors are sitting on substantial property equity that can be converted and reinvested in a tax-deferred exchange. A commercial realtor today can add value by facilitating complex transactions and by identifying required replacement properties, even those that may never hit the market. In most instances, investors will not sell unless a replacement property can be identified. As such, the currency of today’s market and for 2018 is access to information and available replacement properties.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

We are now entering a “post-peak” period. The value grid line is beginning to flatten and there is a higher perception of risk, particularly interest rate risk in the market.

In response, banks have begun tightening their underwriting for commercial real estate. Lower loan-to values (LTV’s), shorter loan terms, and higher debt coverage ratios are now baked into most deals. The big unknown is the trajectory of interest rates. Of course, the “X” factor is what’s going to happen with tax reform, particularly relating to 1031 exchanges. What we do know is that for every uptick in interest rates, there is a resulting increase in capitalization (CAP) rates, which will result in value compression.

Absorption rates are slowing, and days-on-market are getting longer. The deals of tomorrow will have to be well researched and layered with financing that will sustain any increase in interest rates at term, or stay within a debt coverage range that contemplates flattening or even decreases in rent.

 


 

Johann L. Palacios

P.E, SECB, LEED AP

President / CEO, PACE Group, LLC

Pace Group LLC is a structural, foundation and civil engineering firm out of New Orleans that Palacios founded in 2016.

Recent project: Homewood Suites by Hilton New Orleans French Quarter, 618, 640 and 700 Magazine St. and Iberville phase 5,6 and 7.

Most excited about…

Affordable housing needs are at an all-time high, and with former affordable housing units being converted to 100 percent market rates now after five years, they need to be replaced with new ones. As an engineering firm who routinely designs multifamily housing projects, we get to be on the front end of the projects.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

There are two challenges I foresee. The first is that with more multifamily projects becoming available, a saturation point is inevitable, and that point will become obvious once units begin to sell for closer to what it costs to design and construct. This challenge is typical of any real estate segment.

The second is how good infrastructure, or rather the lack of it, can adversely affect the city and its perception of viability over the long term. The recent revelation that the pumps weren’t operable when needed was the most discouraging. Since Aug. 12, 2015, our clients on many projects have been forced to comply with stormwater management guidelines which add on average $5 a square foot over the entire property area in Orleans Parish. I understand that the city needs to start somewhere with slowing down the rate of water that enters the drainage system; however, the system is broken since no revenue is collected from the use of the drainage system. In recent days this entire system is being reviewed with good intentions and suggestions. I hope that our infrastructure does not become an Achilles heel to development interests.

 


 

Will Bradshaw

Co-Founder & President, Green Coast Enterprises

Since its founding in 2007, Green Coast Enterprises has focused on urban and coastal areas in need of community renewal.

Notable project: The Pythian — the renovation of a historical downtown building (opened May 12) into apartments, dining and shopping.

Most excited about…

We are now completing the commercial interiors of The Pythian, which include a food hall, a lounge/venue, and an event space operated by a new venture Green Coast is partnering in called Pythian Market. These three spaces will be a cultural showcase for the building and our city, building on our traditions in food, music and celebration.

Biggest anticipated challenge…

The development industry has an enormous impact on our energy use and, by extension, human impact on climate change. Where we put buildings and how we build them can do more to help or hurt man-made climate change than just about any other human endeavor. For the last 10 years, Green Coast has been here in New Orleans working in a small way to model better choices on this front. We continue breathing new life into blighted, urban core sites, helping shorten commute times and make neighborhoods thrive. We help 15 charter schools and the Recovery School District operate their buildings more effectively. We have also been one of the most aggressive adopters of low-impact development practices that help store and recharge rainwater on development sites, both small and large.

And yet, for all these successful efforts, the choices we make as a public, especially our political choices, far outweigh what we can do as one small business. We all have a responsibility to our children to leave this planet in better condition than we found it. We are failing in that responsibility now in Louisiana and Texas (the two states I have called home for most of my life) and we are paying a dear price for it.

 


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