The possibility that an upscale student-housing development may be planned for the large block of Freret Street where the former Frank’s Steakhouse still remains a shuttered landmark is being met with concern and questions by people in the neighborhood.
The former Frank’s Steakhouse remains a major focal point for both residents and neighboring businesses, as it remains one of the largest properties on the corridor untouched by the recent redevelopment on the street. Last year, the neighborhood strongly supported a proposed redevelopment of the block and was dismayed to see it stumble when city officials denied the demolition of two adjacent Cadiz Street houses for parking.
The latest potential developer, Fountain Residential Partners, is a Dallas-based development company that specializes in apartment housing for university students, with properties at Texas Christian University, the University of Houston, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Minnesota. Trevor Tollett, a vice president with Fountain Residential, said the company has been in touch with neighborhood residents, but it is still too early to discuss any potential details of a project in New Orleans.
“We’re still trying to figure out a plan that’s right for the site, right for the city and right for the neighborhood,” Tollett said in a phone interview Friday. “There’s a lot of moving parts.”
If those plans coalesce into a project, Tollett said, Fountain Residential will “seek to garner neighborhood support.”
The possibility of student housing there is already being discussed among nearby neighbors, and arose Tuesday evening during the monthly meeting of Freret Neighbors United. At such an early stage, association president Andrew Amacker told neighbors, there is still very little information to share.
“When companies are in an exploratory phase like this, they don’t give out a lot of information,” Amacker said.
A housing project of significant density is well outside the current zoning of the corridor, Amacker said. Thus, if the developers move forward, there will be a number of opportunities for public input at the City Planning Commission and City Council required by law. If the plan requires demolishing historic structures, that will require a separate process as well.
“They can’t do anything major to the property without a lengthy process with the city,” Amacker said. “But we are keeping tabs on what’s going on.”
Freret neighbors have long wished for a full grocery store on the corridor, and as one of the largest sites, the old Frank’s building has seemed a prime location for it to many of them. But even more restaurants — which some neighbors have had their fill of — would likely attract more support than some sort of student housing, Amacker said. Loss of parking, the possible demolition of historic structures, the removal of a major commercial space — all of those issues are likely to be major concerns, he said.
“In my personal opinion, it’s a nonstarter,” Amacker said.