Five years after Hurricane Katrina struck southeast Louisiana, New Orleans–based real estate developer, Pres Kabacoff, weighs in on the progress of rebuilding the city. Pres Kabacoff is CEO of New Orleans–based development company HRI Properties and a member of the ULI Public/Private Partnership Council (Blue Flight).
In terms of rebuilding, what has the city done right over the past five years?
Pres Kabacoff: They have spent around $10 billion helping people rebuild their houses. And they have been working on repairing the levees. That was the right thing to do.
What are the most significant aspects of rebuilding that still remain to be done, and do you foresee progress ahead?
[Former recovery director Ed] Blakely correctly named 17 target zones for community development activities. That economic development really never happened. That was a good idea that never got any completion. I’m hoping that Mayor [Mitch] Landrieu will implement these target zone recommendations.
The city didn’t target blighted housing effectively. They did it piecemeal rather than blocks at a time. The New Orleans Redevelopment Agency is now focused on targeting whole blocks so you can create an area of health that you can build on.
The other thing that is missing, and I think that Mitch is going to do it, is to pull together different agencies, like school boards, HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, the Regional Planning Commission, and nonprofit and neighborhood organizations, and agree on an implementation strategy. We have plenty of planning. What we need is an implementation strategy that everybody agrees on and uses their powers and resources to bring home. For instance, the federal government has just given our school system $1.8 billion. These school funds need to be coordinated with other funds to realize neighborhood revitalization led by community schools.
In addition to the physical rebuilding, has the city successfully reinvented and/or expanded its economy?
The main industries are shipping, oil and gas, the ports, and tourism. They have all come back to some extent. The international recession has had an impact on those industries, like everywhere else in the world. We need to expand beyond our traditional industries. I was hoping that the green building industry would take off and the governor would support that. I’m not clear yet whether that’s happening.
What must the city do to improve its livability for existing residents and to attract new residents?
Building place-based neighborhoods—rebuilding those neighborhoods that are uniquely New Orleans—is important, because our great neighborhoods have kept us alive, and enhancing the unique culture and physical environment is economic development for our cities. To the extent that we add to our inventory of healthy neighborhoods, we will continue to attract and retain both visitors and young professionals.
Do you believe the city is better equipped now to handle the next big storm?
They spent billions repairing the levee systems. They have built a barrier at Lake Borgne, protecting New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward from flooding. I think more work could be done to make it rock solid, but we are light years better off than we were. The Gulf oil spill has had an unintended consequence: it has put a lot of attention on the coastal erosion issue, and I think that may actually lead to getting some money to address that.
The 2005 ULI advisory services panel report on New Orleans is available on ULI.org.