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.
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.
“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.”