New Orleans developers Jim and Catherine MacPhaille are counting on the strong ties between Bay St. Louis and the Big Easy to attract buyers for their new beachfront project playfully named The Recess Club.
It’s seven houses on six acres with shared recreational amenities geared toward quick family getaways.
Several years ago the couple bought an 1800s plantation under renovation at a tax sale for about $1.5 million. Their plan was to turn it into a historic bed and breakfast, and they would build their own home next door.
But Hurricane Katrina washed away the plantation house and halted everything.
“Katrina wiped it out,” MacPhaille said of the plantation house.
After the storm there was an abundance of beachfront property where houses once stood. He thought more people would be interested in buying a newly built house rather than take on the task of overseeing one being built on their lot.
“It was going to be hard to find seven or eight people who wanted to buy lots and build,” he said. “Ready built ones would be faster.”
The MacPhailles have been developing projects in New Orleans for 25 years, buying and fixing up old houses, apartments, commercial property and warehouses to sell and then buy more. Their newest project is converting an old school building into 13 condos.
With their Bay beachfront property, they decided to subdivide the land into sites for nine houses, including one for themselves. Seven are nearly complete and three houses have been sold.
The houses are reminiscent of Key West style with tin roofs, MacPhaille said. “Unfortunately you have got to build up so high, on stilts, but we tried to take them to the next level.”
The houses start at 1,300 square feet, not including spacious porches, and go to 1,800 square feet. Prices start at $399,000 and go up to $700,000.
They’re targeting New Orleanians like themselves who grew up spending summers and weekends on the beaches along Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Pass Christian.
“I have always loved Bay St. Louis,” said Jim MacPhaille, who spent weekends and summers there growing up. “A lot of families from New Orleans have a long standing relationship with the city.”
The couple decided to talk to friends about their planned compound that will include tennis courts, a resort style pool, a pier, playground and other common offerings.
Their first buyer was Greg Bensel, a New Orleans Saints executive who wanted a getaway that was close to home.
“I grew up spending summers on the Jourdan River and right there on Beach Boulevard in Waveland,” Bensel said. “It was part of growing up.”
Now, he has two young children and thinks “it might be a good spot for them to experience.”
He keeps his new 30-foot sailboat at the nearby Bay-Waveland Yacht Club, whose membership has a large New Orleans contingent.
“It’s 55 minutes to an hour from uptown. It’s perfect and it’s fun,” Bensel said. “Every time we go over there, we see other New Orleans families. It’s great.”
Another big draw for the development, MacPhaille believes, is its turnkey nature of the houses. New Orleanians with careers and families don’t have the time to oversee building details. “People don’t want to manage construction projects,” he said. “That’s why you see a lot of land sitting there.”
MacPhaille, however, isn’t sitting still. His enthusiasm for Bay St. Louis brought him to another development project, the old Second Street Elementary, which he has under contract.
“I thought it was a good value,” he said, without revealing what he’s paying for the school and land. “It seemed like a good project.”
He will talk to city officials and neighbors to figure out what to make of the old school. “There are many different ways to go with that,” he said. Some options are a hotel, condos, meeting halls and a community theater.
“There are a lot of ideas. I want to build something that gets used.”
But that’s not the end of MacPhaille’s interest in Bay St. Louis.
“I’m looking to do more there,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for Bay St. Louis and I hope other people see the opportunity.” Buz Olsen, the city’s director of economic and community development, said
The Cedar Point area, where MacPhaille’s development is being built, has long been a community of second homes for Louisiana residents and officials are happy to see the neighborhood coming back. “We now are seeing slabs and pilings being removed and it’s starting to shape up, but it’s still going to take time. This development will help that.”