The Centerpiece of Federal City Opens

27 June 2011

The Times-Picayune featured the Marine Corps Support Facility, New Orleans and the dedication of the Joseph P. McCarthy building at Federal City in Algiers.

The Times Picayune

Federal City New Orleans now has its anchor: the Marine Corps Reserve headquarters

The Times Picayune

28 June 2011

The call to arms arose from among the military community more than a decade ago: Shore up the New Orleans area as a duty station or risk losing the economic impact that comes with the region’s two Navy bases.

The subsequent work arguably gave the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse solid standing among the Navy’s inventory of installations, including new family housing, a charter elementary school and a complex providing homes to Marine and Army Reserve units. The plan for the Naval Support Activity called for carving out a campus within the Algiers installation for federal governmental agencies and military commands, loosely called Federal City New Orleans.

While the outcome differs vastly from the original concept, the region today will reach a milestone in the blueprint created years ago — when officials including Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford ceremonially dedicate the Marine Forces Reserve’s $166 million headquarters in Algiers.

“Federal City comes to life,” said retired Maj. Gen. David Mize, widely credited for jump-starting the region’s recognition of the military during his tenure as Marine Forces Reserve’s commander from 1998 to 2001. After he retired from the Marine Corps in 2003 and returned to New Orleans, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin tapped him to spearhead the Federal City development. That led to the creation of the New Orleans Federal Alliance, a nonprofit designated by the state specifically to preserve a military presence in city and develop the Federal City concept.

Built with $110 million in state money and outfitted with $56 million in Marine Corps money, the 411,000-square-foot building in a 29-acre Marine Corps Support Facility compound is viewed as the anchor tenant for Federal City. It is among the top 20 economic development projects currently in Louisiana, said Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret, whose office is providing $150 million in funding.

“This is major milestone,” Moret said of what he called “the anchor portion of the project that sets up the potential to fully realize the vision” for Federal City to become “a multi-tenant facility.”

The 15-year development plan calls for converting the Naval Support Activity into a hub of governmental and private entities mixed with businesses, residences and an educational area nestled between the Mississippi River and Gen. Meyer Avenue in a district about the size of the French Quarter. Backers eventually hope the development will blossom into a $250 million investment where 10,000 people will work.

‘Stennis laid the basis’

As initially envisioned a decade ago, the campus would replicate NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss., albeit “on a much smaller scale,” said Chris Laborde, who as chief of staff for military affairs for the now-defunct New Orleans Chamber of Commerce is credited with applying the term “federal city” to describe the plan for the Naval Support Activity.

“Stennis laid the basis for the Federal City,” said Laborde, a retired Army Reserve officer who now works for the Regional Planning Commission. “Stennis Space Center is probably the best example of a federal and commercial center in the country.”

With about 5,000 federal, commercial and military personnel working there, Stennis today describes itself as a “federal city,” complete with its own ZIP code, 39529. The descriptive term has now become part of the city’s lexicon.

But before the project could be implemented, the Naval Support Activity was tagged for closure in 2005 and the Navy Reserve command and personnel and recruiting operations were moved to Virginia and Tennessee. But because local officials already were pursuing the concept, and with pledges from the state to provide up to $150 million to make Federal City happen, a federal panel agreed to leave the Algiers base open with the Marine Forces Reserve as part of it.

Moret said it was critical for the state to secure the Marines as the key tenant through a public investment that will serve as a catalyst to attract other tenants. “That’s something that’s still under way, and it’s certainly a priority of state and local leaders,” he said.

Developers are in discussions with another Marine Corps entity, but Mize said tight defense budgets have stalled those talks. The New Orleans Police Department is interested in moving its 4th District headquarters to the Federal City site, Mize said. The New Orleans Federal Alliance has a marketing pitch that, in light of Hurricane Katrina, includes an emphasis on the site’s high ground, and consultants in Washington, D.C., are seeking opportunities, he said.

“You’ve got to find someone who needs to move, or you have to find somebody who is a newly created federal entity,” he said. “You have to have some patience. We’re on a 15-year (development) plan.”

Building a city

The idea was to shrink the base, so there is less to maintain, and to include other federal entities that would help defray the installation’s operating costs, according to the Federal City concept. Amenities such as restaurants will be provided by the private sector, meaning the military no longer has to provide services relying solely on a military customer base that in Algiers was no longer sufficient to keep some operations afloat.

Three leases have been signed with two restaurants and a credit unit to occupy retail space in a new parking garage under construction adjacent to the Marine compound, while developers have letters of intent signed with five other businesses, including a law firm, a coffee shop and an urgent-care outlet, he said.

This week, Woodward Design+Build, which built the Marine building and the parking garage, begins renovating the Navy’s gymnasium into a YMCA, which will open in December. Membership will be open to the public, while Marines and civilians who work at the reserve headquarters will get passes, Mize said. A second phase will include a swimming pool, he said.

The campus also would include something the Algiers Point area lacks: a grocery. “One of our goals is to have a grocery in the fairly near-term, and we’re in discussions with groceries to make it happen,” Mize said.

In the meantime, the Federal City centers on the Marine Forces Reserve’s 1,300-member staff that completed its move days earlier than planned last week from their offices at the Naval Support Activity’s Bywater campus, said Col. Bill Davis, Marine Forces Reserve’s deputy chief of staff for facilities who in 2007 began working with Federal City developers to provide “meticulous” planning to meet the Marine Corps’ requirements for the building.

“Call it an anchor tenant, call it what you want. We’re the big kid on the block,” Davis said. “Legally, we are a naval installation. We are the Marine Corps Support Facility, New Orleans, on a naval installation.”

Paul Purpura can be reached at or 504.826.3791.

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