New Orleans, La. — The Big Easy is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, but many residents choose to spend their money elsewhere -- to the tune of $1.9 billion a year, according to Mayor Landrieu's administration.
"That is an annual leakage to other parishes, so sales that are not made within the parish that could be made within the parish," said Aimee Quirk, economic development advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
City Hall wants to turn that trend around.
Still, simultaneous retail projects underway in the city cannot be ignored. For instance, Costco's first Louisiana store is going up on heavily-traveled Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City.
"Costco for example is a $45 million project that is underway right now, coming up from the ground," said Quirk.
The new Mid-City Market will house a grocery store, Office Depot and other outlets. On Claiborne Avenue, the Magnolia Marketplace will welcome the city's first-ever T.J. Maxx and Michael's Craft Store. A Walmart will occupy the long-vacant Gentilly Woods Shopping Center site, and the Riverwalk at the foot of Canal Street is expected to announce new tenants soon.
"What we've heard from retailers that have located in other places around the city is that New Orleans consistently outperforms their projections," said Rod Miller, president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance.
But with almost $2 billion in retail spending exiting the city each year, some members of the City Council told Quirk and Miller that much more ground must be covered, especially in the eastern section of the city.
"Walmart alone, I'm sorry, it's not telling the real story for what New Orleans East is ripe for," said Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell.
"That area was very hard hit and retail has been slow to come back," Quirk responded.
Councilwoman-at-large Jackie Clarkson said more restaurants are needed in Algiers, on the west bank of the New Orleans.
Citywide, an inventory of vacant commercial properties that could be put back into commerce has begun, according to Miller, including properties on Magazine Street, Canal Street, Lake Forest Boulevard, General DeGaulle, Bullard and Read Boulevard.
Miller said more national retailers are eyeing eastern New Orleans, now that Walmart is returning to that area. "I will say that we are looking at both some boutique kind of national retailers, as well as some larger department stores," stated Miller.
"Retailers want to see co-tenancy, they want to see where other retailers are going, where they might be able to share similar customers in a location," added Quirk.
At a time when city government is strapped for cash, the city could use those extra tax dollars to address some of its most pressing problems. "That means more tax dollars for the city to be able to spend on police, and fire, and roads and all of those sorts of things," said Quirk.