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FOX 8 Defenders: Transformation of the old High Rise hotel is in the homestretch

It’s been an eyesore you can’t miss along I-10 in New Orleans East for years. Now a project to put it back into commerce is in the homestretch. As Shelley Brown explains in a FOX 8 Defenders follow-up, the developer feels it’ll fill a need when it comes to affordable housing.
Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 9:37 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -“Every apartment has a balcony, and the higher you get up, the better the views are,” explained Peter Gardner, who’s developing the soon-to-be Highrise Apartments along I-10 in New Orleans East. He showed us some of the apartments will feature lake and downtown views.

“Basically it’s a new building. The only thing, the outer structure is still original, but everything inside, from the wall studs to the wiring, the plumbing, the roof.. everything’s brand new,” he said.

“It needs to be renovated. A lot of work needs to be done out here in the East,” longtime resident Arthemise Williams explained.

From the outside, you might not know it, but inside the old Holiday Inn Highrise East, shuttered for years, Gardner showed us the transformation that’s been underway for the last 12 months. The 144 mostly one-bedroom apartments will have a modern feel with quartz countertops, tiled tub surrounds, and eventually stainless steel appliances. Gardner showed us some of the various open floorplans.

“I think it’s a good space if you’re younger or if you’re older and don’t need a big house,” he said. They’re on the smaller end, around 500 square feet, and Gardner says most rents will run between $800 and $900 a month. “So if you’re making $30,000 a year, this is a great place for you to live.. really trying to focus in on the people who make New Orleans great who are serving us, making things happen in this town. Nobody’s really building for them right now,” Gardener said.

People using the nearby bus stop were happy to hear about it. “Things are so high now, it’s hard for people to get, you know, to live out here,” Cecilia Everidge said.

“I’m very confident that you know building quality housing at an affordable price for an average working person, there’s gonna be a lot of demand for that. So to me, it’s a no-brainer,” Gardner explained.

The project has been a process since Gardner bought the building in 2017. After the building turned 50 in 20-19, he secured a designation for it on the National Register of Historic Places. Gardner explained back then, it had a lot to do with the architecture, specifically the cement blocks that cover the exterior. “Those are called breeze blocks, and those were you know a pretty fundamental or important part of Mid Century Modern architecture kind of allowing breezes to flow through,” Gardner said.

The designation meant he couldn’t change the exterior, and it paved the way for historic state and federal tax incentives to be used for the renovation.

Crews cleared the old hotel’s nine floors of furniture and debris, and over the summer, Gardner wiped the building clean of the graffiti that covered the façade.

“Caveman Reader.. that’s what it is.. I am dying to know what it means,” Tshe Salvant told us in one of our previous reports on the building.

Gardner has installed brand new patio doors on each level and plans to bring it back to the way it looked when it was first built. “I think once the paint goes up and we’re gonna have lighting on the inside.. actually on the balconies.. kind of like the Superdome.. I think once people see that, it’s gonna be really cool,” Gardner said.

He’s in the home stretch now, and it’s a race to the finish line because, with tax credits involved, Gardner says he’s gotta meet deadlines.

He explained getting equipment though has been a challenge at times. The elevators for example were first stuck on a ship and then at a port waiting to get offloaded.

Even after Pandemic delays and a category four Hurricane Ida in August, Gardner says he’s hopeful he’ll meet his end of the year deadline and start signing leases for the Highrise Apartments in January.

He’s eliminating a symbol of Katrina blight along the city’s busiest roadway, and is hopeful the finished project will serve as a catalyst in revitalizing more of New Orleans East.

“I’m appreciative that work is being done, and I hope it continues to be done,” Williams said.

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