The following Times Picayune article about 800 Magazine Street can be viewed in its entirety here. ULI Louisiana will be hosting an exclusive tour of the building on September 26th.
A Warehouse District building where Jefferson Davis was embalmed and, more recently, French Market coffee was roasted is being renovated into one of the most expensive apartment rental properties in the city. Developers hope to lure residents willing to pay $6,000 per month, part of a rapidly expanding apartment market in and around the Central Business District.
Across New Orleans, real estate investors are betting on more professionals with top salaries moving into the city in the digital media, film, professional sports and biomedical industries. Overall, rents are on the rise.
Local developer Tony Gelderman said his project at Magazine and Julia streets will cater to a niche market of people who are searching for grandeur but don’t want to buy. “The luxury is the location and the design and the attention to detail,” Gelderman said. “I feel like it’s a part of a market that’s not served completely.”
He and his wife, Katherine Gelderman, bought the building in 2010 for $1.8 million and are close to finishing an $11 million historical renovation, fueled by federal and state historic tax credits. Nine, two-story units — each a with unique floor plan — are carved into the second and third floors of the building. The finished ground-level is already home to Donald Link’s Peche Seafood Grill.
Apartment broker and market analyst Larry Schedler said the 450 Julia project stands not only be among the more expensive rentals but also the largest apartments in the city. The units range from about 1,400 square feet to 2,200 square feet. Five of the nine units are more than 1,900 square feet.
In the Warehouse and Central Business districts, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments average 1,142 square feet in size, according to a recent report by the University of New Orleans Institute for Economic Development and Real Estate Research.
“It’s definitely new territory,” Scheduler said. “A lot of developers, I think, will be very anxious to see if they can get those rents.”
Gelderman said the larger units will rent for at least $6,000 – approaching $3 per square foot — but rental rates have not been decided. Leasing has not begun.
In the Central Business District and nearby areas, apartments are renting for $1.50 to $2.25 per square foot, Schedler said.
With growing economic opportunities bringing professionals to New Orleans, Gelderman said he’s not concerned about finding tenants willing to pay the price. He expects the first tenants to move in September.
The original warehouse at the site dates from 1840, but historical records show an office for F. Johnson & Sons undertakers was built there around 1884, according to the Gelderman project’s application for tax credits. Francis Johnson Jr. was head of a casket-making company and operated the prominent undertakers’ business along with carriage rentals.
Among F. Johnson & Sons’ clients was Jefferson Davis. The company prepared the body of the Confederacy’s president for lying in state at Gallier Hall in 1889.
The American Coffee Co. occupied the building beginning in the late 1920s, where it remained until 2010, roasting French Market brand coffee for decades. The Geldermans bought the building from the coffee company’s most recent owners, Reily Foods Co.
Gelderman said he and his architect partner, Peter Trapolin, had been searching for buildings in the neighborhood. When they spotted the coffee roasting building, it was ugly and infested with termites. Trapolin said he even thought it was a good candidate for razing.
In the restoration, the edges of the third floor, added in the 1930s, were removed to make it more resemble the original two-story building. The work also involved $200,000 worth of sound insulation between the apartments and the restaurant.
Other aspects of the restoration include elevating the floors, which had sunk by two feet. Original wood from the ceilings and floors were removed and re-milled for new flooring. A balcony is being built where one was torn down years ago.
“It’s an architectural marvel,” Gelderman said this week. “It’s not a small task for what’s been done here.”
Patricia Gay, executive director of the Preservation Resource Center, said the project also received an easement donation, a federal tax incentive in which the developers give up the right to change the exterior of the building without permission from the her organization. The Preservation Resource Center first started its work on Julia Street, buying a house there almost 40 years ago.
“The PRC has been dedicated to Julia Street as an economic asset since 1976, and we’re thrilled that the Geldermans are restoring this building,” Gay said. “It’s quite an honor for Julia Street, our favorite street, to have this magnificent restoration.”