The long-abandoned Lake Forest Towers reopened for business — and here’s how it happened

“East New Orleans is the largest landmass in the entire city … it’s most likely to be developed at scale.”

NEW ORLEANS — It took 14 years to get a chance to meet inspiration at the old Lake Forest Towers in East New Orleans, but this year the long-abandoned structure is back.

Empty since Katrina, Lake Forest Towers is now Lake Forest Estates, an affordable housing development for seniors.

Michael Tubere, a developer at TKTMJ, Inc., said he came up with the idea when the block grant for affordable housing projects came out in 2019.

Tuber drives past the dilapidated building every day and knows it’s a perfect fit for a grant.

“After 14 years of total wilting and flooding and things like that, it took quite a bit of looking to see that it could come together as a beautiful beacon, shining out from east of New Orleans,” he said.

The Lake Forest estate is just one of many major buildings in New Orleans that have been vacant since Katrina, but it is one of the few that has resumed commercial activity.

The biggest issue holding back a project of this scale from rebuilding is funding, Tubere said. That’s what we’ve heard from every developer we’ve talked to in New Orleans.

In this case, TKTMJ, Inc. used six funding sources to obtain the $34 million needed to complete Lake Forest Manor.

“There are a lot of banks and investors willing to invest,” Tubere said. “The downside is that insurance has skyrocketed over the past few years and that will continue to be an issue. Costs are increasing.”

At 14 stories tall, the Lake Forest estate is larger than current zoning laws allow. That made it a challenge to get the project through safety and permitting, but it also made it a rare opportunity to develop a striking building, Tubere said.

“I think these are lighthouses,” Tangee Wall said.

Wall is a longtime East New Orleans resident and president of Eastern New Orleans Affairs, a community advocacy group. She said this year’s major development in East New Orleans is just the beginning for a neighborhood that has been neglected since Katrina.

“Sometimes you say if they build it, they’ll come. Someone has to start it,” she said. “Why not the East? A lot of these buildings could do with a lot of reimagining.”

She hopes the revamp of Lynch Estates will bring change to another long-vacant property: Old Lynch Square.

When the Plaza opened in 1973, it was the largest shopping center in Louisiana. The mall was in its final stages when it was flooded during Hurricane Katrina. It never reopened and was demolished a few years later.

Wall sees this as a great opportunity for big box stores to come to New Orleans.

“We’re looking at that big box,” she said. “We’re looking for retail. Streamers who can make an amazing difference.”

Tubere says now is a great time to invest in East New Orleans.

“East New Orleans is the largest landmass in the entire city,” he said. “It has the most potential for large-scale development.”

New Orleans leaders are eager to make it happen. Following the success of Lake Forest Manor and The High Rise, Councilman Oliver Thomas believes that if the city can make developers successful, so can New Orleans East.

“The first thing we need to do is start seeing the blight as an opportunity. Don’t just see the downside, see the business of the future, the home of the future,” he said. “Let’s build on our assets, and we’ll build on our cities.”

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