The former NOCCA school building on Perrier Street in Uptown New Orleans sold at auction Thursday for $2.45 million to a couple who said they bought the century-old building in order to save it.
“It’s one of the best pieces of real estate in Uptown,” said developer Jim MacPhaille, the winning bidder.
The building, constructed in 1901, has been vacant since the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts moved out several years before Hurricane Katrina. The Orleans Parish School board has made several previous attempts to sell the property, and Lusher Charter School briefly considered moving in but deemed the $10 million in expected renovation costs too high.
The building came to auction Thursday morning with an appraised value and starting bid of $1.5 million, based on the high value of the large Uptown parcel minus the costs of tearing the building down, which the appraiser deemed the most affordable use of it. With two bidders competing, the price quickly rose to about $2.4 million and appeared close to closing, when a third bidder, MacPhaille, stepped in with the winning bid of $2,450,000.
“We just wanted to save the building,” said MacPhaille’s wife, Catherine, noting that they spoke up because the bidding topped off much lower than they were expecting the property to sell for. “We thought it was going to go for $3 million, and we weren’t going to go that high.”
Jim MacPhaille said he attended school in the building when it was still known by its original name, the LaSalle school. As far as his plans for the building, he said merely that he is considering “a lot of options” moving forward.
News of the building’s sale was met with enthusiasm Thursday.
“I’m so excited,” said Michelle Kimball of the Preservation Resource Center, speaking of both the NOCCA sale and the Myrtle Banks Elementary on O.C. Haley Boulevard. “It appears that these historic schools have gone to developers interested in renovating, rather than demolishing them.”
Among MacPhaille’s other projects is a condo building under construction along Audubon Park on the Walnut Street side. Jack Davis, a neighbor of that project and a board member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, also welcomed MacPhaille’s purchase of the NOCCA site.
“If he wants to save that property, that would be spectacular,” Davis said. “I think he does interesting projects.”
Though only three of the properties (the two schools and one caretaker’s cottage on Camp Street) out of the eight up for auction sold Thursday, OPSB chief financial officer Stan Smith deemed the auction a success. The three sold together for more than $3.3 million, well above their appraised values, likely returning them to the city’s tax rolls.
“We’re certainly ecstatic about it,” Smith said, hailing the possible renovation of the NOCCA property. “We’d love to see it saved. These are great old historical buildings, and any opportunity to convert them to another use, we’d support. We’d like to see their history maintained.”
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Also sold at Thursday’s auction was the former caretaker’s cottage at the New Orleans Free School at 3619 Camp Street, which went for $240,000. The buyer, Andrea St. Paul Bland, said she restores historic properties through her company, Opportunity NOLA, and plans to fully renovate the Camp Street house and rent it for several years.
The tax credits for the work she does will expire this year unless the state legislature renews them, so Bland said she was seeking one more substantial renovation project before that happens. She was drawn to it because its poor condition is in such stark contrast to the beautiful homes that surround it, and the high renovation costs compared to its current value will aid in the tax credits.
“I’m sure inside it’s going to be just terrible. I like to look for properties that are deliciously dilapidated,” Bland said, expecting to put a quarter-million dollars more into it over the next six months. “It’s going to be a complete and total renovation.”
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