Laissez les bons temps vendre! Let the good times retail!
The Downtown Development District of the City of New Orleans (DDD) is tasked with developing retail in the Canal Street area, a zone bounded by Iberville Street, the Pontchartrain Expressway, Claiborne Avenue and the Mississippi River. The DDD brings a comprehensive approach to attracting a diverse offering of retailers and restaurants to this stretch most famous as the site of Caesars Superdome. And DDD has a strategy like no other to accomplish its goals, a strategy that includes attracting retail, increasing foot traffic, activating second-story space, as well as contributing to New Orleans’ culture of events.
“Residents and visitors are attracted to the richness, the history and the authenticity of New Orleans. Music is at the core of our genes,” says Davon Barbour, president and CEO of Downtown Development District of the City of New Orleans. “For us, the retail experience is really something that has to be localized. We love to celebrate local operators of brands that reflect the history and the culture of our community. In downtown New Orleans we’re very fortunate that we have many local operators, and a number of regional operators manage multiple locations. We have operators that have multiple restaurant concepts as well. This local focus is important to us, given that we draw so many visitors to our community. In 2020, nearly 55 percent of the visitors in downtown New Orleans traveled more than 250 miles to get here.”
The organization wants a diversity of offerings for its growing residential population of young professionals and for its enormous number of visitors (an estimated 19.8 million in 2019). Health and fitness concepts, apparel offerings and experiential retail all “fit” here.
“Experiential retail is important and makes sense for us,” explains Barbour. “We are a community that loves to host, that loves to entertain. We’re pretty good at stimulating the senses. When it comes to giving our visitors an opportunity to take advantage of new entertainment technology, the experiential retail sector is really exciting, particularly around entertainment concepts in our community.”
Such offerings would complement the existing retail and museums already in place in New Orleans, including the Sazerac House cocktail museum, where patrons can combine tasting New Orleans’ famous libations, learning from demonstrations and absorbing the city’s fascinating history.
Cultivating Canal Street
Canal Street is New Orleans’ historic commercial corridor, but, like many other commercial districts around the country, the district experienced some vacancy, including on the upper floors of its historic buildings.
“We are a catalyst agency and one of our core roles is to facilitate business attraction in our community. We identified a problem — vacant upper floors along Canal Street,” says Barbour. “We wanted to figure out how to activate those spaces and put them back into the commerce equation. One of the challenges we experienced in investigating this was fragmented property ownership and building code issues (in particular, ingress and egress questions) that we needed to manage before these spaces could reach their highest potential.”
DDD worked collaboratively with the city’s planning department and a local preservation organization to create the Canal Street Upper Floors Redevelopment Strategy to enhance the usability of each space. By combining the upper floors of two adjoining properties and working with a local developer to purchase these spaces, the DDD was able to facilitate the creation of a larger, usable space.
“That was a great success story: we activated these vacant properties, bringing local merchants and local operators to the table, providing them with financial resources and technical assistance to actuate and use these buildings,” says Barbour. This process is ongoing and DDD will continue this strategy for vacant spaces, particularly on upper floors.
Celebrating Retail, Upping Foot Traffic
Strengthening the retail experience along Canal Street involves promoting vibrant spaces for hospitality and tourism. In a city known for hosting big celebrations, DDD wants to nurture as many events as possible to support retailers and generate foot traffic.
“We created a holiday parade in partnership with Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, bringing large floats, plus local bands and entertainment, to generate foot traffic for our retailers and restaurants. We don’t want people to simply come and visit downtown — we also want to have them support the area and spend their dollars at these establishments,” elaborates Barbour.
Conventions, festival season, Jazz Fest and more are all opportunities for DDD to celebrate businesses, promote expansions and encourage new relocations to the community. In this way, the good times can roll on and on and on.
To learn more about the DDD and its programs, visit downtownnola.com.
— By Sarah Daniels. This post is posted as part of Shopping Center Business’ Retail Insight series. Click here to subscribe to the Retail Insight newsletter, a four-part newsletter series, followed by video interviews delivered to your inbox in May/June.