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               OAKWOOD MALL: NEW ORLEANS, LA

Craig Trent's Commentary

Posted September 3, 2006 (user submitted November 3, 2005)

OK, so this is not really a "dead mall"....more like a burned out destroyed mall:

Oakwood Mall, located on the West Bank of New Orleans, in Jefferson Parish is probably the hardest hit mall from Hurricane Katrina in terms of damage. Originally built in the late 1960's the anchors back then were D.H. Holmes (later bought out by Dillards) Sears, and a General Cinema outparcel. Through the years the mall was renovated, added onto and eventually became the second largest mall in terms of gross sales for the New Orleans area (first being Lakeside Mall in Metairie). It's most recent renovation was in the late 80's when it was owned by the Rouse Company, who also owned The Riverwalk located in Downtown New Orleans.

At the time of the fire, the major anchors were Dillards, Mervyns, and Sears. After Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, the New Orleans area became a horrible site of lawlessness, looting and frenzy. Oakwood fell victim to both excessive looting as well as vandalism and arson. According to local police reports, looters set fire to piles of clothes in several of the smaller mall stores. The larger anchors were spared arson, but were seriously looted. The fires were contained to certain areas thanks to the heroic work of local firefighters who worked under extreme conditions to contain the blaze. Areas of the mall which were burned are currently being rebuilt. The Sears anchor store is actually open and operating.

Following is the text of the story from WWLTV.com:

Dennis Woltering / WWL-TV Reporter

Encouraging news about the future of the Oakwood Shopping Center, after a fire raced through the building in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, burning some stores within the mall. Mall officials said looters stole sneakers, jewelry and cell phones before setting fire to the Oakwood Shopping Center. Mall management for the West Bank retail hub has vowed to rebuild. However, the mall is not recovering from Katrina. It is recovering from looting, lawlessness, and a devastating fire that left 30% of the mall severely damaged.

Officials said initially, the looters broke in through skylights, and that the hotspots they found in the fire zone indicate the thieves who ran out of the mall with sneakers, jewelry and cell phones, also set the place on fire.

Low water pressure made it tough for firemen to fight the blaze. And the lawlessness made them afraid for their own safety. But they persevered, and finally put out the fire. Officials said 30% of the stores at the Oakwood Sopping Center were damaged in the fire. Still, the impact leaves more than 100 stores unable to open right now, close to 2,000 employees without jobs, and Jefferson Parish without millions of dollars in tax revenues.

'The sales tax revenue that this mall creates in property tax, in order for us to be able to keep schools open, to be able to have policemen on the streets, to be able to fund our fire departments, and just public services, is just tremendous,' said Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts. 'Its a big economic blow to Jefferson Parish; in the millions of dollars.' 'Im not sure people do these types of things that they really recognize the impact, not just to corporations, but to the people who's livelihoods are here, who's jobs are here, that now are displaced. And so I think that's just very sad and unfortunate,' said Brian Glade, Senior Manager for the Oakwood Shopping Center.

Mall management said Sears and other anchor stores either have reopened or will reopen before the bulk of shops in the mall come back. One-third of the mall is so badly damaged it has to be demolished and rebuilt. Glade stresses the mall will reopen, but he cannot even guess when that will be.

The good news is Sears has already reopened, and one or more of the other anchor stores may also reopen before the rest of the mall.

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