NEW ORLEANS - The going out of business signs are popping up inside the Riverwalk Market Place just weeks after a $70 million expansion plan was announced. The mall's owners are turning the facility into an upscale outlet center. However, many locally-owned businesses now face uncertain futures.
"This is another area that's related to Hurricane Katrina," said Liz Williams pointing out a special exhibit inside the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. It opened back in 2008 and has finally outgrown its current home in the Riverwalk.
"We've acquired new space. We're going to have 30,000 square feet of our own building to be able to have a restaurant, bar, kitchen, auditorium, children's gallery and all sorts of things that were part of our dream to begin with but we didn't have enough space for here," added Williams.
The museum's decision to move to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard comes at the perfect time. The mall's owners say about 100 tenants lease out space at Riverwalk. Now their futures are murky. Plans for a 50,000 square foot expansion are in the works to make way for an upscale outlet center. But not every Riverwalk business will be returning.
"We're working very closely with our current tenants. Some of those tenants might continue with us in the future. Some of them might find homes in other retail spaces in Orleans Parish," said Lauren Wakeman, marketing manager for Howard Hughes Corporation which owns the New Orleans mall.
Eyewitness News has learned that several tenants at Riverwalk have signed leases to stay after renovations are completed.
"Most of our business is from the conventions and the tourists," said Roger Johnson who manages Nola Tropical Winery. The company has been at Riverwalk for three years now and says it will be returning to the new outlet center.
"We think this will be a magnet for locals as well as visitors. We're looking forward to a new and improved store in the new concept," said Johnson.
However, not everyone is happy some business owners say it will be costly to move, build new storefronts and with the 2013 Super Bowl just around the corner, they'll be losing big bucks.
As one museum tenant gears up to happily move out, Williams says the lagniappe that the Riverwalk offers will be missed.
"So much is provided in terms of bathrooms and security within a mall that in most museums you have to deal with yourself," said Williams.
The mall's owners will have a private meeting with tenants on August 22 to help with the transition process. Construction at Riverwalk is planned for later this year which will shutdown the mall. It is scheduled to reopen in late 2013.