New Growth to the North
A look at the future developments, and challenges, facing the future of the Northshore.
Today’s Northshore millennials are spreading their wings to find new housing and livelihoods in newly developed parts of St. Tammany Parish. And it’s not just homeowners, either: Regional companies are finding the Northshore to their liking as well.
These two demographic factors —millennials and new companies — have helped sustain the economic engine of the latest and largest mixed-use developments of retail, residential and office hubs across the parish. To St. Tammany’s economic leaders, the crystal ball is even more promising: This trend of positive growth is expected to continue for quite some time.
In fact, according to studies compiled by the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, overall growth is a sure factor as written in both the quarterly “Parish Growth” report and in the “Ten Year Economic Summary.” The parish’s economic growth index has risen 4.9 percent since the third quarter of 2013; residential building permits have risen every year since 2009; and total sales have risen over 30 percent since 2009.
Those numbers, one might say, sing of consumer and business confidence.
Most of the new development spans the width of the parish, occurring along the Interstate 12 and Interstate 10 corridors. The Northshore’s I-12 is the primary east and west transportation vein and the economic driver for the course of most major developments.
Three major projects carrying economic promise for the parish right now are similar in that they are all mixed-use developments: Tamanend, Fremaux Town Center and the Versailles Business Center projects.
The Versailles Business Center is one of Gulf States Real Estate Services’ (GSRES) largest mixed-use projects. Michael Saucier, president of GSRES, says the 92-acre Covington site off I-12 and U.S. 190 will eventually serve as the central business district of the Northshore. “That’s what it’s designed to be,” he says.
Although still five to 10 years from completion, the 848-acre Tamanend mixed-use project, located off I-12 and La. 434, north of Lacombe, will one day be home to the new Northshore Technical Community College STEM campus, the St. Tammany Parish Emergency Preparedness Center and more new businesses. “It was developed primarily because of its central location,” says Saucier.
To the east of I-10 is Slidell’s booming 400-acre Fremaux Town Center and Fremaux Park, which are expected to spur more retail, residential and business development.
“We finished the first two phases of retail at Fremaux,” says Townsend Underhill, Stirling Properties’ senior vice president of development. “We have about a dozen retail tenants in phase two still to open, and a number of those will open over the next couple of months [including] Capital One, Pier 1, Five Below and Aveda.”
And there’s more to come at Fremaux. Underhill says Stirling Properties has a couple of hotel projects under contract there, projects that will fly Hilton and Marriott flags. While they’ve already developed 100 acres, Stirling Properties has 200 additional acres to develop at the site, and Underhill says the near future “…involves high-end residential and even more retail.”
Rendering courtesy of Stirling Properties and CM Combs Construction
The Fremaux Avenue corridor, says Saucier, has spawned a lot of development nearby, what he calls “tag-along projects.” He believes Fremaux is another example of the parish’s evolving retail infrastructure. “The Fremaux Town Center has changed the dynamics of retail in the east St. Tammany area,” he says.
Underhill agrees. “I think retail development is consolidating in a project like this, as opposed to the proliferation of small strip centers and small shopping centers, which was the norm 10 to 15 years ago. I think you are going to continue to see activity in Slidell in the eastern half of the parish. I think there is resurgence over there. They’ve had tremendous success in a fairly short period of time with the Town Center.”
The Combs Connection
Madisonville-based C.M. Combs Construction is one of the commercial build/design general contractors benefiting from east St. Tammany Parish development. “One of the higher-profile projects our company is currently working on is Nunmaker Yachts’ new boat sales and boat and RV storage facility off of Interstate 12 and Highway 11,” says owner Chris Combs.
Developers are building on nearly every available lot in St. Tammany Parish and are even redeveloping older properties — a less expensive venture than building on raw land. While redeveloping existing properties is not common on the Northshore, most experts believe it will increase over the next five to 10 years.
Saucier describes GSRES’ redevelopment projects as similar to the revitalization of Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie, which began a decade ago. He also has a prediction: “I do not see any large, ground-up shopping center complexes being developed in west St. Tammany.”
However, contractors continue to fill in pockets of land available in Mandeville. For example, Combs is overseeing a new facility for dentist Martha Anne Carr (rendered below), and Stirling has Whole Foods at the Premier Centre (rendered above), located at U.S. 190 and North Causeway Boulevard. The latter is expected to open this spring.
Expanded development is also spilling over into Tangipahoa Parish to the west. “Our businesses and work force impact areas are spanning across the parish lines, so what happens to our neighbors, happens to us,” says Brenda Bertus, president of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation.
That’s good news for landscape companies like Mullin Landscape Associates. “We’re expecting to continue to increase our presence in both parishes, especially in and around Mandeville, Covington and Hammond,” says company president Chase Mullin, who’s also working on a highly visible new office complex on U.S. 190.
Kasey Dorr, the vice president of business development for Rotolo Consultants Inc., a commercial landscape design, construction and maintenance company, agrees that growth is heading westward. “We see it going towards west St. Tammany Parish towards the Tangipahoa Parish line and Hammond near the I-12 corridor with industrial complexes. I also see continuing growth in the multifamily market there.”
Rendering courtesy of Stirling Properties and CM Combs Construction
Another project on the horizon is a major development north near I-12 on La. 434 north of Lacombe, a 700-acre business park in east St. Tammany. Bertus says, “Considering the number of advanced manufacturing companies looking to relocate into our region, we need to be prepared to welcome them.”
Meanwhile, Saucier says the Pinnacle at Nord du Lac Shopping Center off I-12 will be finished by 2017. “There’s a lot of land there left to be developed; it’s basically about half completed, and we’re making great progress on getting it finished.” Land to the east of the Pinnacle will be the site of the parish’s new cultural district, including a multimillion-dollar performing arts center.
Underhill says Stirling Properties is currently working on a multifamily project area called the Springs at River Chase in Covington and has also started construction on a project for Rooms to Go that will open in January of next year. “We developed about 150 acres of this project and have another hundred to go.”
For the sake of future expansion projects, developers are quick to point out the critical need for another round of residential development. Saucier predicts that additional residential growth will likely occur in both central and west St. Tammany Parish. “The only reason I say this is that east St. Tammany is still very hurricane prone, and there’s not a lot of land. East St. Tammany either has wetlands or there’s not an elevation.” That, he suggests, means potential home buyers are still plentiful, primarily in the lower to midpriced housing market.
“I believe that we have to be more aggressive with trying to attract quality corporations,” says Saucier. “We are going to the East and West coasts trying to get people to move here. If we can bring a 100,000-square-foot office client out of California or New York you can imagine what that would do to spur residential and retail development because our demographics would change substantially overnight.” Northshore economists and developers know that new housing construction will attract more retail, office and corporate-sector growth.
More Changes Ahead?
Meanwhile, the recent hit of the oil crisis has commercial development leaders keeping a close eye on oil prices, and Saucier feels those dominoes are about to fall. “I think we will start feeling the effects in the spring and summer of this year. Housing prices will soften, and business investment decisions will become more strategic and heavily analyzed. On the Northshore, it is generally white-collar jobs that are being affected.”
Underhill concurs. “If anybody tells you they have no concern at all, they’re fooling themselves or lying to you.” Underhill is banking on the diversified economy and time to carry the Northshore through. “I don’t think [oil] is a large enough percentage of our economy to have some catastrophic effect. I don’t think it can stay at $30 a barrel forever; it can stay awhile, but not forever. We are not panicking on our end.”
An immediate challenge, one high on developers’ lists, is the need for improved transportation infrastructure. “There’s some real, real, real tough decisions that I don’t think the public is prepared to really address, but they are going to need to pretty soon,” says Underhill. “There needs to be a new connection over the Tchefuncte River. The primary connector east and west is the interstate, and it’s not built to handle local traffic.”
Despite all the obstacles, those in the industry have a positive outlook for the Northshore. “The economic snowball effect will continue to gain momentum on the Northshore as the metro New Orleans area continues to expand,” says Mullin. Bertus feels the same. “I’m confident that the increasing growth will continue into 2016 and 2017.”