Thursday, February 25, 2016

What's going on in Torreszonia?

Sidney is going to Make It Great Again
New Orleans businessman Sidney Torres IV has purchased the former Carmelite Monastery on the edge of the French Quarter and plans to develop the walled complex into a mix of residential and commercial uses.

The site covers nearly an entire city block bounded by North Rampart, Barracks, Burgundy and Gov. Nicholls streets.

Torres made his successful bid with the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the property late last year. The deal closed Tuesday.

He declined to say how much he bid for the site, citing a non-disclosure agreement. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese confirmed the sale but otherwise declined comment.
Did Sidney have an opinion on the long disputed Habana Outpost just a few blocks away from there? Just curious since he wants to put in a St. Roch Market now. 
He said the former church could be redeveloped as a retail building similar to the St. Roch Market and also could be available for hosting special events or ceremonies.

“We believe the archdiocese selected our bid because we share a desire that this once grand complex should be put back into regular use,” Torres said. “I will do that in a way that complements the neighborhood, is consistent with the history of the buildings and makes the historic structure beautiful and useful again.”
Making it great and beautiful and useful to somebody.  Mostly to Torres and, I guess, his "luxury housing" tenants. When they move in, they should have a nice view of the St. Claude streetcar.  There's still some doubt as to how useful an amenity that might turn out to be. Take this streetcar project in Brooklyn for example.
The $2.5 billion plan has the backing of some public transit advocates and some prominent real estate developers whose property values will rise if the streetcar gets built. But not everyone is on board.

"This isn't really a mobility enhancing technology," says Marc Scribner, a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. "This is a government subsidy to property developers."

He points to other streetcar systems around the nation that never got up to speed — including the D.C. Streetcar, which is set to begin carrying passengers this weekend after years of delays. For months, empty cars have been rolling up and down H Street in an extended safety test. Scribner blames the troubled rollout on poor planning by the city.

"Part of the problem is, you're dealing with bureaucracies that really didn't understand what all went into this. And then part of the problem is it's just inherent with the technology," Scribner says.

He says streetcars are hard to maneuver in traffic. Any streetcar that has to share the road with cars and buses is inevitably going to be slow and unreliable. He points to Atlanta's streetcar as an example.
In other words, it is useful. But not to transit riders. In fact, we've known this in New Orleans for a long time.  The primacy of the St. Claude streetcar's usefulness to real estate developers was actually heralded during the planning process.   
Pres Kabacoff, a real estate developer from the Bywater neighborhood, said he thinks the streetcar will help spur business. Kabacoff even argued that slowing down vehicle traffic might be a good thing, since having cars whip by "is not conducive for good retail development."

He added, "To the extent that people have a difficult time in traffic getting down the street it may cause them to want to live in the area and use an effective streetcar."
The streetcar is "effective" at raising the likelihood of investment in nice things for rich people.  Torres certainly thinks so, anyway.

Update: See also 

According to transit advocacy group RIDE New Orleans bus service in New Orleans is only around 35 percent of what it was pre-Katrina, while streetcar service has more than recovered since Katrina, at 103 percent of pre-storm service. Rachel Heiligman, who served as the executive director of the group until the end of 2015, says this push for more streetcars is not just happening in New Orleans, but across the country.

In the late-2000's, cities across the country received federal grants to improve their transportation network, and many cities invested in streetcars.

“I think there was a period of time, early in the Obama administration, when streetcars were a very sexy thing — they are transit,” Heiligman said. The problem is, according to Heiligman, streetcars seem to be more about revitalizing neighborhoods than actually providing transportation.

“Once the tracks are in or even discussed as coming in, you start to see economic development go rampant, business and real estate development,” Heiligman said. “And so streetcars, in some ways, are more about economic development than transit, in my opinion.”

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