New Orleans takes control of former Navy facility in the Bywater

Project calls for multi-use site

New Orleans has taken ownership of the former Navy facility in the Bywater neighborhood, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office confirmed Tuesday.

It is a step toward realizing long-standing ambitions to redevelop the 25-acre site.

Plans have inched forward since former Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration to transform what used to be called the Naval Support Activity— East Bank into an emergency operations center for housing local and regional disaster management staff, as well as retail, housing and education facilities.

Even after the transfer of ownership from the federal government, it’s not clear when those plans might actually bear fruit.

The developer that Landrieu’s administration chose for the site last year, a joint venture called EMDRC Partners, still has to finalize a long-term lease with the city, then find the grant money that would help pay for retooling existing structures and building new ones.

In a statement Tuesday, Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble said the city took over the property Oct. 4 and hopes to reach an agreement with EMDRC on upkeep of the facility while the two sides hash out a lease.

The base transfer comes at no charge to local taxpayers, as part of an “economic development conveyance” rather than a sale, Gamble said.

In an interview Tuesday, former New Orleans homeland security chief Col. Terry Ebbert, a member of the joint venture, said he expects development of the site to play out in different phases over several years.

He couldn’t say how much the project will cost, though previous estimates have run as high as $90 million.

“It all depends on what the final usage is,” Ebbert said. “It’ll take a period of time over several years to fully develop the site. You’re talking about 1.6 million square feet.”

Built by the Army in 1919, the base became a deployment hub during World War II known as the Port of Embarkation, then served as a Navy support facility beginning in 1996. It’s been vacant since 2011, when the Navy closed it as part of the Pentagon’s base realignment and closure program, leaving a huge swath of potentially valuable real estate on the downriver edge of what’s become one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.

As is, the site includes three six-story buildings with 1 million square feet of office space, recreational facilities and an open area the military once used as a parade ground.

A plan drawn up during Nagin’s term and approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2011 calls for a multi-pronged redevelopment scheme anchored by an emergency operations center, which would house personnel and supplies for various agencies during hurricanes or other potential disasters.

The plan also calls for multifamily housing, shops and training facilities.