Developer Pres Kabacoff says he is a man on a mission to transform downtown. If the city center can be revitalized, he says, and the river can be connected to the lake, it would transform the entire city of New Orleans.
"You can walk across it like a Paris," Kabakoff said. "In Paris, you can go fifty or one hundred blocks and have a fascinating, comfortable, safe experience. New Orleans is our Afro-Caribbean version of that. And if you can fix the center, you can walk from river to lake and have a similar experience."
Kabacoff has been a player in the New Orleans real estate scene for some 30 years. He converted one of the first buildings to condos in the Warehouse District.
Now, he's sketching a plan for downtown New Orleans in three parts.
The first is the reconstruction of the Iberville housing projects. Standing in front of a chain-link fence on Iberville Street with design plans in hand, Kabacoff says that some 15 or 20 buildings along the spine of the housing development will be preserved. He also says that the neighborhood is on track to become an attractive place to live.
"We will limit it to a walkable community with three and four story buildings," Kabacoff says. "We won't separate in one section poor from rich, they will just live right next to each other."
The second important piece of the puzzle in the downtown revitalization plan is Charity Hospital.
Kabacoff envisions building a neuroscience facility in one wing that would research how to address brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
He is also embracing Mayor Landrieu’s plan to move City Hall and the Civil District Court into the old Charity building, which has been empty since Hurricane Katrina flooded its basement.
But the judges want their own courthouse on Duncan Plaza, next to the current site of City Hall. They are resisting the move to Charity.
"That building is unsuitable for a courthouse," says Michael Bagneris, a civil district court judge for 20 years.
"We have to protect the citizens and insure that when a courthouse is built, it is a courthouse this city and its citizens deserve... which is a 21st century, state-of-the-art courthouse, which can not be placed into Charity Hospital."
Kabacoff admits he faces obstacles before his vision for downtown can become a reality.
But, he believes that the Iberville projects will be fully developed. He believes that the former Charity Hospital will be occupied by City Hall, the Civil District Court and the neuroscience doctors and researchers.
If that can happen, he says, the third and final part of his plan can be fulfilled: bringing a version of Lakeside Mall to a vacant stretch of Canal Street. Iberville is one block away, Charity is two.
"If I believe what were doing is right and good, I'm hard to knock out of the chair," Kabacoff says. "I think that the center city revitalization I've described to you is as important for this city as anything I've ever participated in."
Kabacoff still doesn’t know where most of the money will come from, and he doesn’t have forever to figure it out. The Landrieu administration says it wants to take no more than six months to settle the issue of who will occupy the old Charity hospital building.