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Canal Street facelift resuming
New sidewalks, lights aim to revive strip
Monday, July 03, 2006
By Bruce Eggler

Hurricane Katrina didn't change the minds of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and the Downtown Development District about the importance of upgrading the appearance of the Canal Street business district.

The $12.9 million Canal Street Improvement Project, which started in early 2005 and was interrupted by Katrina, once again is moving ahead. Installation of new sidewalks and other work will begin today in the blocks on the downriver side of Canal between Decatur and Burgundy streets.

This is the third of seven zones into which officials have divided the project.

Work on the neutral ground between the Mississippi River and Claiborne Avenue was completed before the hurricane, and construction on the downriver blocks between the river and Decatur is just about wrapped up, officials said.

"We are pleased with the progress post-Katrina," DDD Executive Director Kurt Weigle said. "The project is moving along well and will provide a backdrop for new development downtown, which will be a definite benefit for the entire community."

Work in the new zone, which comprises the 500 to 900 blocks of the French Quarter side of Canal, will include demolishing the current sidewalk and replacing it with granite and brick. The work is expected to last until mid-November.

No blocked access

Merchants and business owners in the affected blocks have been told that access to their buildings will not be blocked. The sidewalks will be removed and reinstalled one-half at a time, working from the curb. Even when construction is under way next to the buildings, arrangements will be made to let employees and customers enter.

The entire project includes new sidewalks, curbs, landscaping, underground irrigation and new light fixtures. The fixtures, replicas of historic ones, will replace the old light standards from the river to Claiborne and substantially increase the brightness of Canal Street at night.

In addition, there are to be palm trees in the neutral ground and new sidewalk "bump-outs," or granite sidewalk extensions protruding into the street at each corner and, in many cases, in the middle of the block. Palm trees on the neutral ground that were uprooted by the storm were replanted or replaced.

Attracting shoppers

The facelift is intended to help restore Canal Street's economic vitality by making the 17-block section between Claiborne and the river more attractive, thereby encouraging more people to shop or live there. Once the city's premier business and shopping district, that section of Canal fell on lean times long before Katrina, with cut-rate shops and boarded-up facades mixed with new hotels and a few upscale stores.

"Even at this early stage, locals and visitors alike are excited by the new look being rolled out on Canal Street," Weigle said. "Clearly the new Canal Street will be just what we have all hoped for: a place that attracts investment and attracts locals back to our main street to enjoy everything good about New Orleans."

Asked recently what he hopes to accomplish in his second term, Nagin listed completing the Canal Street project as one of his main goals.

"The project has always been a part of (my) vision for Canal Street and the economic growth of the city," he said. "On behalf of the citizens of New Orleans, I challenged the DDD and the Canal Street Development Corp. to create an environment that encourages new businesses to become a part of the new economic landscape in New Orleans. When this project is complete, it will not just enhance the aesthetics, but it will help return Canal Street to its rightful place as one of America's grand avenues."

The work is being paid for by the Downtown Development District, a government agency that levies a tax on all property in the Central Business District and Warehouse District, and the Canal Street Development Corp.

The Canal Street agency is a public benefit corporation that receives the rent paid by the Chateau Sonesta Hotel and other tenants in the city-owned buildings on and near Canal that once housed the D.H. Holmes department store complex.

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Bruce Eggler can be reached at or (504) 826-3320.