Former Blue Plate Fine Foods building to be converted
into apartment building
Saturday, January 03, 2009 | Times Picayune | New Orleans, LA | By Bruce Eggler
From mayonnaise-making to gracious living?
New Orleans developer Tara Carter Hernandez hopes so.
Hernandez is working on plans to convert the former Blue Plate Fine Foods building at South Jefferson Davis Parkway and Earhart Boulevard to a 72-unit mixed-income apartment building.
One of the city's earliest "modernist" buildings, the Blue Plate factory was designed by architect August Perez Jr. in 1941 for the local mayonnaise and sauce manufacturer, which had been founded 16 years earlier.
The City Planning Commission and City Council have approved a conditional-use permit needed for the apartment project, and Hernandez expresses optimism she will see the $23 million venture through to conclusion.
"The current financial markets make it a little tougher than usual, but I'm confident we'll be able to work through it," she said recently.
She said she hopes to start construction in the summer and finish the conversion by mid-2010.
Hernandez said her company, JCH Development LLC, has an option to purchase the almost 70-year-old art deco landmark, though she refused to disclose the price.
Earhart Expressway Commerce Center LLC, owned by local businessman and investor Kevin Kelly, bought the Blue Plate site from Reily Foods Co. in 2007 for $1.875 million.
Hernandez proposes to demolish two one-story brick warehouses on the site and convert the main three-story building to apartments. The building's original design and signage will be retained.
Fifty-one percent of the apartments would be designated for people making 80 percent or less of the area's median income, with the rest to be rented at market rates.
There would be 40 one-bedroom apartments, 30 two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units, with a total of 104 off-street parking spaces.
Hernandez said she anticipates the apartments would be marketed to people with "nice incomes" and that the site's easy accessibility to Uptown, universities and Jefferson Parish would increase demand for them.
She said the Blue Plate building is on the National Register of Historic Places and she is counting on historic restoration tax credits as a major component of the financing, though the financing package is not yet complete. She is "working on" getting public money, she said.
Mayonnaise production at the Jefferson Davis Parkway building ended in early 2000 when Reily Foods consolidated production at a more modern plant in Knoxville, TN. Reily had bought Blue Plate Foods and the landmark building in 1974 from Hunt-Wesson Co.
The Planning Commission staff said the apartment conversion "would preserve a historic structure and would aid in the revitalization of underdeveloped properties in the surrounding neighborhood.
In asking the council to approve the conditional-use permit, City Councilwoman Stacy Head said the project has neighborhood support and "it looks like the management will be absolutely top-notch.
Bruce Eggler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3320.