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Big Easy Reconstruction

Renewing the richly varied housing of Hurricane Katrina-stricken New Orleans is a large part of the mission of the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership and their frequent partner White-Spunner Construction.

While it looks old school from the street, The Muses offers residents wireless Internet, solid security features and LEED certification.

While it looks old school from the street, The Muses offers residents wireless Internet, solid security features and LEED certification.

White-Spunner Construction Inc. moves forward with straightforward concepts: quality and on time delivery. Sounds familiar? It should.

“I know it sounds like the biggest cliché out there,” says Senior Project Manager Josh Dindo. “But if we deliver when promised, do what customers ask and meet deadlines, the job is done, no matter how big.” 

One of those big jobs for a big customer is in The Big Easy.

Mobile-based White-Spunner has completed several major apartment complexes in New Orleans, with another in the final stages. The client is the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, a nonprofit with a mission to revitalize the Gulf Coast with transformative development. It strives to create vibrant, high-quality communities, socially and economically integrated, affordable and sustainable. 

“We both know what to expect from each other,” notes GCHP President Kathy Laborde, from her New Orleans office. “The relationship started about 2009. We gave them a project and liked how it turned out. Then we gave them another and another and another.”

Four key Crescent City endeavors she references are The Muses, Delamore, Harrell Building and Esplanade Apartments. Each is built green with features including low VOC emissions, state-of-the-art HVAC systems and cost-effective energy savings. And each project is different, often in ways unexpected.

“They all have unique personalities and challenges,” adds Jeff Carrico, WSC’s chief operations officer. 

It started with The Muses, a mixed-use urban residential development of 263 apartments. The $30 million project in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood was built from the ground up.

“We demo’d an existing building before starting the new one,” recalls Carrico, about 1720 Baronne Street’s four-acre property. “It’s a new facility, with residential and retail space.” The Muses offers residents style, convenience, wireless Internet, security and the opportunity to “live green” in the first Louisiana property of its type to win LEED certification. 

White-Spunner’s second project was the Harrell Building, at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. The $20.6 million, 70-unit apartment building has 84,000 square feet for mixed-use development, with 64,000 square feet for senior residents and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority is the anchor tenant. Harrell is adjacent to the King Rampart Apartments — 70 units with ground floor parking, offering housing to residents 55 years and older.

Third in construction order, at 2256 N. Claiborne Ave., The Delamore was almost a flash in the pan. “During a severe thunderstorm, the front fell to the ground from a lightning strike before much work had actually started,” recalls Laborde. “We had to decide to abandoned it or rebuild.” They chose the latter. 

Josh Dindo remembers, “Before the intended renovations began, the storm took down the front façade. The original plan was to renovate the existing structure. But when the wall section collapsed, rain saturated the wood and timbers. We had to rebuild.”

The Delamore, budgeted at $5.4 million, was completed in August, 2014, with 26 one-bedroom, one-bath units just a mile from the French Quarter. “That building was originally built in the 1920s,” recalls Dindo. “It has a lot of character. Though the storm took it down, we were able to bring it back as close as possible to the original building in appearance.” And that’s a good thing, he says: “People like change for some things, but not always in their historical or familiar buildings.”  

The latest is Esplanade Apartments, built from a former nursing home and expected to open this month. “It has just been sitting there, vacant since Hurricane Katrina,” says Dindo. “Now it’s clean, revitalized, and will reopen and return to its useful state.” 

That’s important to proud citizens of one of America’s most unique cities. “New Orleans is a sensual city,” says Laborde. “You can see, feel, smell and taste it. Visitors and residents are fascinated by it.”

Each project must pass muster with building codes, historic commission and more. But it must also produce quality housing at an affordable price, Laborde says.

That’s where White-Spunner comes in.

Building in coastal Louisiana is different from construction upstate or in many other states, but very similar to building in White-Spunner hometown Mobile. And the two cities often share the same hurricane issues. 

New Orleans is a Tier 1 hurricane area, Dindo notes, meaning any buildings must be designed to withstand hurricane forces. “It’s the same in Mobile, but not in Montgomery, Birmingham or even northern Louisiana.”

Should the storm strike, so does White-Spunner. “We constantly train for it,” Dindo says. “Hurricanes and storms are a reality. We monitor the weather every day. Our superintendents, safety directors and crews stay ready. We button down the hatches, secure materials and buildings and tie down everything.” As the Delamore Apartments taught them, storms cannot be prevented but can be prepared for. Weather is a huge factor in all they do, especially hurricanes, another of the many masters they serve when building on the coast.

But typically, on better weather days, WSC utilizes workers in Louisiana and Alabama. A majority of their subcontractors are from the New Orleans area. 

White-Spunner has found these projects especially rewarding, Dindo says.

“I feel in some way, we have made a difference in these buildings and in the community they serve,” adds the Mobile project manager. “It revitalizes and brings value back to the community. The whole city benefits when people are in good, safe environments.”

Emmett Burnett is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He is based in Satsuma.

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