What retailers need to realize is that, while the city isgetting some negative press due to crime, Nagin said, a lot ofyoung, educated individuals are moving to the locale and investingin the area. "This is a city of incredible opportunity, and I don'tthink that retailers around the country know that it is here," hesaid. "The market is underserved."

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James Maurin, the chairman of Covington, LA-based StirlingProperties, agreed. His firm has three shopping centers in excessof 500,000 sf under construction in Covington and two otherLouisiana cities, Hammond and Baton Rouge.

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"A lot of people have left this region," he said. "But not asmany as most people think." The area is now experiencing whatMaurin called a "post-Katrina boom."

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In New Orleans, he said, 77% of the restaurants have re-openedsince the 2005 storm, and the unemployment rate is at 4.4%, belowthe US average of 4.9%. Maurin also pointed to the reopening ofGeneral Growth Properties' Oakwood Mall this weekend and a$20-million renovation of the downtown Saks Fifth Avenue as othersigns of progress.

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"There's this perception out there that New Orleans is closedfor business," Maurin said. "We've got lots to work on; more thanwe can handle."

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