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(Read more on the multifamily market.)

NEW ORLEANS-Pointing to the continued demand for housing along the Gulf Coast States, Humphreys & Partners Architects LP has bought a 3,800-sf building in the Arts District for a bricks-and-mortar presence in the city. The firm’s eighth office will be a homeport for projects in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Danny Baldassaro, the Dallas-based firm’s director of the South-Central regional office, has been working the market for Humphreys since the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “We’ve ended up with a couple of nice projects during that time,” he says. “Now we have projects lined up in all three states we’re actively working on.” One project is the 411-unit Preserve and Crescent Club, being developed by the Domain Cos. Both projects are market-rate apartments, which has been in demand for 18 months.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand for a mix of market-rate apartments mixed in with some affordable apartments,” Baldassaro tells GlobeSt.com. He says developers typically are requesting projects with two to five stories for the rebuilding drive.

The reason for selecting New Orleans as a base for the south-central region was its location. “We’re right smack dab in the middle, between Baton Rouge and the Gulf Coast,” Baldassaro says. “If we need to jump in a car and take care of a project or meet with city officials in Gulfport, we’re there.” Additionally, proximity to Armstrong International Airport means the Humphreys staff can be anywhere in the Southeast quickly too. By year’s end, he plans to have a staff of six people working the region.

Companies like Humphreys & Partners are ones that Steve Molnar, director of regional business development for Greater New Orleans Inc., wants to see coming into the area: contractor supply businesses and auxiliary businesses to assist in redevelopment. City officials are so serious about it, it’s combining forces with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana Economic Development and the World Trade Center of Miami for a “New Orleans Region Business and Matchmaking Forum,” slated for June 21 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL.

Molnar says the event’s purpose is to highlight investment and building opportunities in the New Orleans market. Much like Baldassaro, Molnar considers New Orleans a logical jumping-off place for building opportunities in other Gulf Coast markets. “We’re going to Miami, which has had some job losses on the construction and building side,” he explains. “While they’re in a slow phase, we’re in a phase where we think there’s a long-term future.” Miami developers, in fact, have looked at New Orleans as a logical market for development.

Molnar acknowledges, however, that on the short-term side, rebuilding New Orleans, and encouraging businesses to return, hasn’t gone as quickly as it could have. The reasons are varied, such as the high cost of insurance and lack of a specific vision in the days and months following Katrina. Molnar also points out that the area is rich with strong neighborhood organizations and historical preservation groups that don’t necessarily like change.

“We’re not a community that has usually tried new and creative things,” Molnar says. “But, there’s a recognition that we need to be more open.” He points to one example, that of the new city council and local economic council partnering to attend the International Council of Shopping Center’s annual Las Vegas conference to encourage more development in the city. “That’s something they wouldn’t have done in the past,” Molnar says. “They wouldn’t have worked together to do that.”

Molnar points to job growth and a slow uptick in the population figures as an added plus. Additionally, companies are shifting within the market rather than leaving it. “The trends are pretty positive,” he says. “Job growth is outpacing population growth and that’s a positive sign.”

Baldassaro sees the same trend as well. “We’re seeing more businesses opening up here than people packing up and moving on,” he adds. “That’s a good thing.”

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