Aug 042011
 

"For Rent" signs advertise vacancies at the apartment complex at State and Tchoupitoulas, the recent sale of which has led to some concern in the surrounding neighborhood. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The new owner of an apartment complex at Tchoupitoulas and State streets is renovating the large collection of units there in hopes attracting college students and tenants with ties to nearby Children’s Hospital, property managers said Wednesday, possibly bringing some short-term reassurance to nearby neighbors worried that the lot could become a major commercial medical development.

Investor Ben Gravolet bought the collection of two-story brick apartment buildings in December, and about 60 units are currently occupied, said maintenance manager Lisa Matthews. About eight more units around the complex are being renovated now with extensive repairs and new appliances, after which the buildings’ exteriors will get a facelift, Matthews said, and the final job will be a total renovation of the building at 223 State, which burned several years ago.

Lisa Matthews, maintenance manager of the apartments at State and Tchoupitoulas, checks on the progress of renovations of several units. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The renovated units are intended to draw tenants attending classes at Tulane or Loyola, or possibly either working at Children’s Hospital or wishing to stay near a long-term patient there, she said.

“We want to keep people that are clean and quiet,” Matthews said. “The complex is really a quiet complex. … It’s been cleaned up a whole lot. We got all the bad apples out.”

After recently learning of the apartments’ sale to Gravolet, nearby residents noticed its “medical services” zoning classification, and worried about all the legally-permissible, high-intensity possibilities for redevelopment at the site. News of the renovations at the complex should take the sting off those fears for now, said Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association president Sara Meadows Tolleson.

A kitchen in one unit has just been outfitted with a new stove and restored cabinets. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

“It gives us some immediate relief, in terms of the actual use there,” Tolleson said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

The medical-services zoning that covers most of the block remains a concern, however, especially as the city embarks on its comprehensive-zoning process, Tolleson said. The association may still consider using the opportunity to request residential zoning there, she said, which is preferred use for that block in the city’s Master Plan.

“Our concern is an intensive commercial use would be less desirable there,” Tolleson said. “We just need to study up.”

[Update, 2:38 p.m. Monday, June 8] In a phone interview Monday, Gravolet said he lives on Henry Clay, and the decline of the property over the last decade was painful to watch, he said. Since he purchased it in December, he has been working to improve it through renovations, which he said he hopes will attract better tenants for the neighborhoood.

“It’s come a long way, but it still has a long way to go,” Gravolet said.

Whether the property remains apartments in the long term remains to be decided, Gravolet said, acknowledging the wide range of potential uses included in Medical Services zoning. Very little short-term housing is available nearby for parents and caregivers of Children’s Hospital patients, a need Gravolet said he may one day seek to fill. The Lighthouse for the Blind, also nearby, also has some housing needs, and Gravolet said he has considered a residential building specially designed to serve the blind on the site.

“I’m giving different thoughts to different things,” Gravolet said. “I’m still toying with it. I want to preserve some of the rights that are there, but nothing as liberal as the zoning allows.”

The apartments at State and Tchoupitoulas. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

  • Robert Knapp

    Robert,
    Do you have the contact information for Mr. Gravolet? I work for Ellis Construction and would like to find out if he is going to use a local contractor for the work and if he will allow us to bid on the project.

    Thanks,
    Robert Knapp
    504.416.4733

    • I don’t have any direct contact information for him, but I’m sure the managers at the property could put you in touch with him. You may be able to make out their number from the For Rent sign in the photo. Good luck.

  • Kris Pottharst

    Robert, you are doing a great service to both sides of this situation through interviews and photos and by bringing visibility to the present and possible future of such a large parcel.

    Our group of neighbors who own and have renovated residences adjacent to this property have defined our little neighborhood as a good place to raise children, walk dogs, and peacefully co-exist with some large but quiet commercial uses. Glad there is hope for a vision that respects our desire to preserve this delicate balance. We are watching!