Real Estate's Top 9 Influencers
New Orleans’ top real estate professionals share what excites and challenges them about the future.
Interest rates remain low, the economy is doing well, home prices in New Orleans rose by 8.6 percent in the first half of this year and we continue to see a boom in new construction on both the residential and commercial side. There is, indeed a lot to celebrate about our local real estate market. In this, our fourth annual real estate issue, Biz brought together some of this area’s key players in a wide array of real estate specialties and asked them to share their successes and their concerns as we finish up this year and head into 2019.
Among their answers are a celebration of the redevelopments of areas like the Central Business District (CBD), the Bywater and Mid-City, along with the continued urbanization of our downtown corridor. There are also exciting changes in the works for popular retail spaces like Elmwood Center, and construction-based software solutions are bringing companies more firmly into the digital age in a way that allows them to stay connected and responsive to the needs of their clients.
Among these triumphs, however, lie many challenges and uncertainties. Among the biggest questions are: When will this wave we’re riding crash? How should we address the declining affordability of our city? What can we do to combat the decline we’ve seen in skilled labor workforce? And how can we retain the talent we have in the face of growing competition from other states? Real estate is about the land, sure, but it’s the people that will lead us into the future.
Lacey M. Conway
President/Principal Broker, Latter & Blum, Inc.
A New Orleans icon since 1916, Latter and Blum is a full-service real estate brokerage operating in greater New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, Lake Charles, Houston and southern Mississippi. Over 3,000 agents are part of the Latter and Blum family. The company’s first sale was a home at 938 Esplanade that sold for $8,400 in 1916. At the end of 2017, Latter and Blum’s total sales volume reached $4.5 billion. The company is currently ranked as the 34th largest real estate broker in the United States.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? On a personal note, I am excited to join the growing list of women in executive leadership in New Orleans. I am surrounded by a dynamic leadership team that is challenged with taking a 100-plus-year-old company into the next 100 years.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? Similar to other traditional real estate brokerages in the country, one of the biggest challenges we face is staying on pace with technology and remaining relevant to our clients in the process of buying and selling homes. Declining affordability and decreasing disparity in the marketplace has been, and continues to be, the biggest challenge for the residential real estate industry today.
President, New Orleans BioInnovation Center
The New Orleans BioInnovation Center is a nonprofit incubator dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and supporting Louisiana innovators as they develop lifesaving new technologies by providing lab and office facilities, free business-consulting assistance, educational events and a low-cost capital program. Tenants and clients of the center include over 150 startups developing new medical devices, therapeutics, diagnostics, digital health platforms and clean technologies. The center works with independent innovators and researchers from institutions including Tulane University, LSU Health, Xavier University and the University of New Orleans.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? Charity Hospital continues to show progress and promises to be a cornerstone in the development of a life-science economy in the region. The Spirit of Charity district can help the universities, medical institutions, business community and city government focus on a coordinated effort that enhances our capabilities in research, destination healthcare and entrepreneurship.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? In terms of the commercialization of research, growth and retention continue to pose great challenges to the development of a biotechnology economy. New Orleans — and Louisiana as a whole — face strong competition from other markets (Boston, San Francisco, Research Triangle Park) and we have to do more to provide the resources necessary to give our startups business reasons to stay and grow in our city.
Charles Ward, Jr.
Partner and Vice President, Rozas Ward Architects
Rozas Ward Architects is a firm that specializes in healthcare, education and commercial design, but the company’s portfolio reaches across all industries. Notable projects within the past few years include: The Kalorama Condominiums (700 Magazine Street); 640 Magazine Street Apartments; 425 Notre Dame Condominiums; The Saxony Condominiums; 2424 Tulane Avenue Apartments; and Meril Restaurant.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? I am excited to assist in the continued development of the CBD, Bywater, Mid-City and other areas of metropolitan New Orleans. We are looking at several adaptive-reuse, historic-renovation and new construction opportunities across the entire city. I look forward to the further growth of our city and how our projects can enhance the experience of the community. I see several exciting opportunities for the future of New Orleans and I am thrilled to assist our clients and our community.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? I feel the biggest challenge for our industry is striving for creativity and technical competence in the pursuit of efficient design and construction. It is vital that we balance our client’s programmatic needs with the right design and cost efficiency. I enjoy the challenge of assisting in the development of projects that can be realized and executed by our clients. I will strive in the coming year to continue to implement an innovative vision while focusing on exceptional service for our clients.
Broker/Owner, LaBranch & Associates Realty and Design
2019 President, New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors (NOMAR)
An accomplished agent in both Atlanta and New Orleans, LaTanya LaBranch has held several leadership roles in the industry since 2008 and founded LaBranch & Associates in 2011.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? Becoming the first African-American female president of NOMAR — the largest real estate board in the state of Louisiana. This organization was chartered by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in 1915. I’ll become the 105th president this year, breaking the glass ceiling and making it possible for my peers to know that it is possible! Our mission and vision is to be the trusted advocate and resource for the real estate community and a model of excellence among REALTOR® associations. We are an association that’s dedicated to our members. We have some exciting projects that we are working on to offer even greater member value!
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? Unlike most other states, Louisiana does not have a statewide MLS. Instead, each local area manages their own MLS. NOMAR owns Gulf South Real Estate Information Network (GSREIN), which is the largest MLS operation in the state. Right now, we’re dealing with the fact that there is an active move toward developing one statewide system and there has been a lot of opposition — a lot of people who don’t want to see this change.
Our challenge at NOMAR is how can we create a statewide service instead of having brokers going out on their own. We’ve been trying to do this amicably since last year and things seem to just be getting hotter and hotter. Our goal is to make sure that our realtors have the necessary tools available to effectively run their business and provide elite service to their clients. To me it’s all about the clients’ experience!
Managing Member, Lauricella Land Company, LLC
Lauricella Land Company is a commercial real estate developer whose biggest project currently is the Elmwood Center in the Elmwood area of East Jefferson. It is the largest open-air, retail-focused project in Louisiana at 1 million square feet. Elmwood began with little fanfare in the mid-70s and has gone through multiple ownership and operational cycles – some down, more up. Today Elmwood Center is 100 percent owned by Lauricella Land Company, on quite stable footing and facing a bright future.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? We’ve just completed a major exterior renovation to Elmwood Center and will be seeing a slew of new and better retailers and restaurants coming to Elmwood along with the announcement of a significant residential component. This residential piece of 250 apartments in Phase 1 will offer the finest apartment living in East Jefferson amidst all that Elmwood Center has to offer. It was created in response to a trend in our industry to create “town centers,” which offer all components for a “live, work, play, shop” experience.
Elmwood Center already offers several major lifestyle anchors in Ochsner Fitness Center and AMC Theater, and we will be upping our game in the next year with new, higher-quality retailers including Banana Republic Factory Store, Express Factory Outlet, Torrid – as well as others with whom we are in discussions. Also, expect us to introduce a grocery component to our mix along with some new restaurants — Boulevard American Bistro will locate in our most prominent location and La Madeleine will open in an entirely new location. Along with all these upgrades, we are looking to improve much of our common space with more landscaping, greater walkability, improved drainage, better lighting and signage. In short, we are remaking Elmwood into something that simply does not currently exist in the New Orleans market.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? There is no question that the biggest challenge right now is trying to figure out where retail is going in the future. The current thinking is to create “town centers” that are more equally weighted with retail, restaurants, experiential components and residential/office. In the meantime, every developer needs to look very carefully at those companies with whom they are looking to sign leases. Never before have developers looked more carefully at the future viability of brick-and-mortar retailers in the face of the onslaught of online retail presence. Simply put, the threshold question we ask ourselves when considering a retailer is, “Will they be around in five years?”
Frank W. Morse, Jr.
President, Morse Homes, Inc.
President, HBAGNO (Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans)
Morse Homes is a family-owned business licensed to do both commercial and residential projects in the state of Louisiana. The builder has been involved in the high-end, luxury home market for the last 30 of its 40 years in business and specializes in providing a complete construction service, including plan development, interior design and layout, as well as high-quality products and service. Morse Homes uses online programs to maintain constant communication with clients, no matter where they are in the country, which allows the company to stay connected during construction, and as long after as need be.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? Our excitement about the upcoming year is due to the increased activity of new construction that has been evident in the New Orleans metropolitan area since the beginning of the year for both residential and commercial projects. As we move into the third quarter, we are realizing that the current momentum of the industry will carry our company well into 2019, allowing us to continue our success and growth.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? No doubt, labor shortages, new regulatory requirements and increased costs seem to come from every angle today, and it is imperative that we stay on top of any that may affect us in the future. Additionally, by being actively engaged through membership in the Homebuilders Association of Greater New Orleans, Louisiana Home Builders Association, and the National Association of Home Builders, Morse Homes is updated daily on any and all issues or regulatory changes that may be coming in the future, which includes lack of qualified construction labor for the various trades.
President/CEO, Ryan Gootee General Contractors, LLC
Ryan Gootee General Contractors currently has three projects underway at the Sazerac House, Fillmore Theater NOLA by Live Nation, and The Rendon.
Built in two 1850s-era buildings on Canal Street, the five-story Sazerac House will have a unique exhibit experience, event space, corporate office space and a penthouse on the roof. The completion date is set for spring 2019.
The Fillmore Theater will be the first venue built on the second floor of Harrah’s Casino, will accommodate up to 2,900 people, and will open early next year. On The Rendon, I am wearing two hats, developer and contractor. We are historically restoring the old McDonough 31 School in Mid-City into 26 apartment units with a completion date of year-end.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? The momentum of the construction and real estate industries and New Orleans in general. I think everyone’s been wondering and worrying when the 13-year wave we’ve been riding will flatten out, but it just seems to keep rolling. National economists have been predicting for years that 2019-20 will be the next big downturn, but I’m still optimistic for NOLA. I was driving around downtown this week and realized there are more tower cranes in the air spread over several major projects than I have seen in years. There are many multi-million-dollar projects just starting, on the cusp of starting or in planning that will spur other developments in surrounding areas.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? The declining skilled labor workforce still remains our biggest issue but is also amplified by the high expectations of owners to complete projects as quickly as possible. With the technological advancements over the last 15 years, people expect things almost immediately. Aside from big box stores, fast food, pharmacies and such, most construction projects are serial No. 1 which inherently takes more time. To offset the high-paced demand and shortage of labor, we are fighting technology with technology. Many construction-based software and hardware solutions have come to market over the last few years that have been highly beneficial, but the industry is still behind. We need to stop complaining about our labor woes and start doing something to turn it around. For example, last week we had unCommon Construction, a NOLA nonprofit, speak to the entire company about their efforts to get high school students engaged through actual hands-on training in building a house.
Owner, Snappy Jacobs, CCIM Real Estate Management, LLC
Snappy Jacobs, CCIM Real Estate Management, LLC is a small, full-service commercial real estate firm built on select long-term relationships, including family offices, trusts, high net-worth individuals, individual investors and businesses. The company has a concentration of business in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge markets and extensive experience in the sale, management, leasing and redevelopment of the historic markets of both these regions, as well as small shopping centers and retail in South Louisiana.
What are you most excited about in the coming year? We are looking forward to the continued development and redevelopment activity as a result of the improving national economy and the catalyst effect of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The improving economic fundamentals, plus government incentives, such as the Opportunity Zone feature of the recent Tax Cut and Jobs legislation, provide a platform for prudent development and investment. We anticipate investors will unlock trillions in stock and closely held companies’ capital gains in order to reinvest in historic real estate markets. We have the expertise to assist those folks.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? There are always shifting currents beneath the surface of any economic cycle; some sectors will be overbuilt, and the retail/internet situation will continue to evolve. Those are constant concerns, but the biggest challenge facing the commercial real estate industry in New Orleans is ensuring that political and civic policymakers and the labyrinth of public boards and commissions in the region address the need for a more diversified economy, much-needed infrastructure improvements, and quality-of-life issues such as crime and transparency in the way business is done by government and pseudo-government agencies. These issues are of great concern for investors.
Michael J. Siegel
President, Corporate Realty
Corporate Realty is a full-service real estate agency headquartered in New Orleans that serves businesses throughout the Gulf South, including Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. Most of the company’s brokerage and management teams have been together for more than 20 years. Recent notable projects include helping bring DXC to New Orleans and working with the Benson team to redevelop and lease up the former Lord & Taylor Building (1400 Poydras Street).
What are you most excited about in the coming year? I’m most excited about the continued urbanization of Downtown New Orleans — seeing more people living, working and playing in the downtown area. I’m also excited about welcoming DXC and their new employees to the business community and continuing to work on bringing more white-collar jobs to the city. I’d also like to see the Saints in the Super Bowl again.
What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today? Our biggest challenge as a company is trying to figure out how to harness the mass amount of information available on the web to our benefit. On a wider level, the uncertainty in the national business community has resulted in some slowdown to growth and opportunities.