NEW ORLEANS- Next time you drive through the Central Business District, take a close look, and you'll may see signs of a transformation.
New businesses and residential developments seem to be around every corner in an area filled with offices and spotted with vacant historic buildings.
"It creates a scene downtown where there's more amenities, a greater quality of life, and the more people there are, the more amenities, the more people want to live here," said Kurt Weigle, CEO of the Downtown Development District.
According to the Downtown Development District, the number of people living downtown has doubled over the last ten years, and is expected to double again in the next decade.
It said an influx of young people from out of state moved downtown after Katrina. Since then, the area has added 1,000 residential units. And 440 more are in the works.
"Our recent history in downtown housing has been, as much as we can build, people will fill," said Weigle.
And that's affecting local businesses.
"There's plenty of restaurants in the CBD that are not open for dinner, because the business crowds come and go. But I mention to [the restaurants] as I go, I say, 'You're going to be open for dinner soon.' And they say, 'What do you mean?' And I explain to them how the influx of downtown residentials are coming on strong," said Daniel Weiner, architect for downtown's newest major residential development, the Maritime Building.
The 105-unit apartment building is located in what was the city's first high rise, according to Weiner. About 25 percent of the units are leased, with construction scheduled to be complete next month.
"It's just wonderful to put this building back into commerce and give it new life and bring more people downtown," said Weiner, who is also working on a 155-unit building downtown scheduled to be open in several months.
Weiner works closely with a group looking to transform the old Hibernia Bank building into mixed-income apartments with nearly 200 units.
"It's certainly something we're seeing post-Katrina and part of the Renaissance of our city, but it's also just a national trend," said Weiner. "People don't want to get in their cars to do everything."
As one of 5,000 people living downtown, T.J. Iarocci said a walking culture is one of the reasons he moved from uptown last year
"Just a younger more vibrant crowd, a good place to be if you're single. If you're a business person here, you know, my office is right down the street, so just basically sometimes I just walk to work," said Iarocci.
The increase in downtown residents is bringing new businesses to the area, like Ste. Marie restaurant on Poydras.
"We're the new kids on the block. We've only been here for three days, but it feels like it fits already," said Robert LeBlanc, a Ste. Marie partner.
Just next door, Darryl Reginelli said he was hesitant to open a business downtown until he saw an opportunity to move into a new, mixed-use apartment building last year.
"Being in this space, we have kind of a built in market above us," said Reginelli,owner of Reginelli's Pizza.
And that growing downtown market is spurring the development of area's first major, full size grocery store. Rouses is expected to open in the fall.
And with the promise of a new streetcar line on Loyola Avenue also breathing new life into the area, many believe it's only the beginning.
The DDD also expects more people to move downtown with the opening of the VA and LSU medical centers .
"It's really just begun," said Reginelli. "Sort of a resurgence in this particular area."
"I kind of feel like we're going to create our own entertainment sector over the next couple years, and it's special time to be a part of that," said LeBlanc.