Developers adjust plans for Frenchtown Gateway

Rev. R.B. Holmes explains some of the details about changes in the Frenchtown Gateway project to stakeholders at a recent meeting.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine


By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook writer

 The plans have changed a bit for a mixed-use development that will take up four acres as it becomes the face of Frenchtown.

Changes in the Frenchtown Gateway proposal that was first unveiled in 2018 became necessary after discussions with the eight property owners in the area where the structure will be built, said project manager Keith Bowers. Stakeholders and property owners involved in the project were given a progress update on the Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners plans last Friday at the Urban League offices in Frenchtown.

“We’ve always wanted to make sure that what came out of this development was based on some of the needs and going with the vision of stakeholders in Frenchtown,” Bowers said.

The property runs from Macomb Street on the south to Martin Luther King Boulevard on the north end with Tennessee Street on the south and west to Virginia Street. Most of the land is owned by the Community Redevelopment Agency, with other partners being Bethel Missionary Baptist and families with long ties to Frenchtown.

“What we are trying to do is make this thing marketable,” said Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor at Bethel. “It’s what we are going to bring to the City Commission in due time.”

The changes are expected to be presented in the developers’ next meeting with the CRA in July, said Bowers.

Along with structural changes, backers of the project said it will now cost an estimated $111 million. The original cost was pegged at $78 million.

 “We got broader numbers on the cost,” Bowers said. “We were able to take a look at what similar projects cost in terms of square footage and there is a slight increase.”

 One major change that resulted from discussions about the project is the addition of a walk-in health facility. That will be located on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Tennessee Street, where a vision store is currently located.

Meanwhile, Bethel Towers apartments will remain intact along the same stretch of property.

Another structural change from the original plans is to keep Economy Drugs in its current location. Owner Alexis McMillan has decided to go with a façade grant from the CRA.

The drug store was in the original concept. It also included retail space, apartments, office space and up to parking spaces.

Some of those plans have been scaled back. However, longtime Frenchtown resident Annie Harris said she expects the project to remain a good fit.

“I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the grocery store; all of that because that’s what we need,” Harris said. “You’re going to have families to support it; not only students but we have other supporting units in the neighborhood.”

Despite the structural changes, Tony Brown, whose consulting firm is working with the project, said the plans will ultimately  reflect the history of Frenchtown.

“Frenchtown is a great place,” he said. “We want the architecture to signify this is a great place.”

Brown made his comments while mentioning that a super market will be a focal point of the project. Space for other retail stores remains on the drawing board.

“It is intended to be a place that existing residents can come to shop and that’s what we hope to accomplish,” Brown said.

He and Donald Gray, who represents the architectural firm Fitzgerald Collaborative, also said that specific plans for the housing section are still to be decided.

One of the questions that came up was about the economic impact that the project will have on the once vibrant community. To that Gray said it could generate as much as $54 million of income for construction workers.

The reported economic impact is more than $170 million.

“The vision is to relate to that,” he said. “What we want to hear from (stakeholders) is what services the community wants and can we attract this business to Frenchtown. And, if so we want to make sure that business is sustainable.”

Work on the project will be done in two phases, said Gray, starting with the first phase in 2021. He estimated completion of the project in 2025.

Phase one will include the medical facility at a cost of $11 million, while phase two or the Frenchtown quarters has an estimated $36 million price tag.

That’s not  too ambitious for what the project will mean to Frenchtown, Brown said.

“We think we have a wonderful block that can be a centerpiece of economic activities for residents in the area,” he said, “as well as an attraction for other visitors who pass by the site every day in significant numbers to see a vibrant shopping center that is welcoming to stop and shop.”