Robért Fresh Market granted preliminary approval for tax break

Robert Fresh Market granted preliminary approval for tax break

By: Andrew Valenti, Reporter September 12, 2017 

The owners of the Robért Fresh Market currently under construction in the Marigny have requested a tax break from the city after unforeseen complications arose during its development.

The Industrial Development Board granted preliminary approval a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for the project at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

According to the requested PILOT, developers want to freeze the 2017 assessed tax value of approximately $33,000 at the site, which includes 2222 St. Claude Ave. and 1019 Elysian Fields, for a 10-year period. Without the PILOT, the estimated tax bill would be $239,000 and would cost an additional $2 million over the 10-year period.

IDB president Alan Phillipson said the board would have to run a cost-benefit analysis for the project before hammering out numbers for the final version of the PILOT.

“This is a very important project, and I want to urge all of the board members to pay attention to it,” IDB member Justin Augustine said.

General manager Marc Robert III said this request was necessary because unanticipated hurdles such as the removal of additional slabs under the site and the inability to use structural walls that had been deemed useable have skyrocketed construction costs. Owner Marc Robert II estimated the total cost of the project would be $9.5M at a groundbreaking ceremony in January.

It is unclear how much these overruns would add to the total cost of the development. Robert III said if the project does not receive the tax break, the grocery store would have to scale back its offerings and would lose profitability over the first five years it is in service.

Workers began construction at the site in January. The grocery store will offer 26,000 square feet of space and is bounded by Elysian Fields Avenue, St. Claude Avenue and Marigny and North Rampart Streets. There will also be a separate parcel on the property totaling 12,000 to 15,000 square feet that would house four to seven tenants.

Robert III said a small animal hospital has signed a letter of intent to occupy one of the spaces but declined to provide the name of this business. He said other prospective tenants could be a pharmacy, restaurant, coffee shop or a fitness center.

Robert III said the PILOT would also include the retail portion of the development because many prospective tenants expressed concerns about future profitability, and this tax break would give them some guarantee of that. The spaces have been listed with Corporate Realty.

Ryan Gootee General Contractors will handle construction, and Trapolin-Peer Architects comprise the design team. Robert III said the grocery store would create 80 jobs that would be a mixture of full- and part-time employees. He said the projected opening would be the second week of January 2018, with the retail portion of the development to open soon after.

Financing for the initial projected cost of $9.5 million project totaled $7 million and was coordinated and consolidated by New Orleans-based Hope Federal Credit Union. The New Orleans Fresh Food Retailer Initiative also provided a $500,000 grant to the project. The program has funded other projects such as the Circle Food Store in the 7th Ward, the Whole Foods in Mid-City and the Dryades Public Market in Central City.

Additional funding for the project will come from state and federal Historic Tax Credits. City officials have said one of the major initiators of this and other private developments in the area is the North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue streetcar line that began operating nearly a year ago.

The site opened in 1946 as the first Schwegmann Brothers Giant Supermarket and the first self-service grocery store in the area. Robért Fresh Market took over the site in the 1990s until Hurricane Katrina.

After disputes of insurance payouts and litigation between the site’s landlord, the Schwegmann family and Robért Fresh Market were settled in 2014, Robert III said in January a large part of the redevelopment process was working to get the building on the State and National Register of Historic Places.