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NEW ORLEANS-A massive mixed-use redevelopment is under way here in the Lower Garden District that will transform a 60-acre former public housing project into River Gardens, a mixed-income community of 1,088 new apartment units, 290,000 sf of commercial and retail space and a three-acre park.

The estimated $300-million redevelopment, called St. Thomas HOPE VI Mixed-Use Redevelopment Project, but to be renamed River Gardens, is situated on the site of former public housing project, just steps from the Mississippi River and about 1.5 miles from downtown and the French Quarter.

Locally based developer Historic Restoration Inc. recently broke ground for the first 296 units of rental housing. Charter Municipal Mortgage Acceptance Co. and its subsidiary, Related Capital Co., are providing financing for the first phase. The $48-million loan includes financial contributions from Wal-Mart, which is constructing a 200,000-sf Wal-Mart Supercenter within the redevelopment site. The financing also includes funds from HOPE VI, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that uses federal financing as a magnet for private investment.

Other first phase work includes the Wal-Mart and half of the 100 off-site apartment units. Subsequent phases will include the second phase of the mixed-income apartment component and the remaining half of off-site units, 72 units of elderly housing, 100 high-rise condominium units, 312 units within a continuing care retirement community, five historical buildings to be renovated into 35 mixed-income family units, and 73 for-sale homes.

Housing Restoration Inc. lists the on-site multifamily housing component of the project as a $97.5 million endeavor that will include duplexes, four-plex town homes, row housing and garden-style apartments. A portion of the units will be dedicated as low-income housing.

The 312-unit continuing care facility is listed as a $97.5-million project on Historic Restoration’s website. The 312-unit facility sponsored by Tulane and Loyola Universities will offer housing to independent elderly, assisted living and nursing care.

The cost of restoring the historic buildings is figured at $2 million. No specific price tag was immediately available for the Wal-Mart for the adjacent off-site housing and the single-family home component.

The financing structure for the first phase breaks down as follows: Related Capital provided $6 million for tax credits generated by the apartments being constructed; CharterMac provided $17.1 million in financing through tax-exempt bonds generated by the development, with a portion of that bond amount payable by Wal-Mart with funds that would have accrued for real estate taxes but instead will benefit the new apartment units; $13 million in HOPE VI loan; and tax increment financing bonds issued by the City of New Orleans, which will be payable with a portion of the sales tax to be received from the adjacent Wal-Mart Supercenter.

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