LAPLACE – A LaPlace apartment complex and shopping center severely damaged by Hurricane Ida will soon be fully renovated and reopened to the community.
Vedant Vasanji, owner of the River Oaks apartment complex across from Sonic in LaPlace, is buying the Belle Terre Marche shopping center to support the rebuilding efforts of St. John the Baptist Parish.
The cleaning of the place which is at the corner of the Airline highway and Belle Terre boulevard began on Monday. Vasanji estimates that restoring the square will cost $4 million. Meanwhile, he’s leading a $6 million complete overhaul of the River Oaks apartment complex.
The Marche Plaza and the River Oaks Apartments are just two elements of Vasanji’s efforts to restore the area. It is also rebuilding a dozen single-family homes and five hotels in the LaPlace neighborhood, a hotel in Donaldsonville, and a hotel and shopping mall in Houma.
Vasanji said Belle Terre Shopping Center has been a mainstay in the community and will ensure that it continues to serve families in St. John’s Parish for years to come.
Some businesses previously housed in the Marche Plaza, including Belle Terre Urgent Care, Tatje Insurance, and The Cajun Grill, moved further down Belle Terre Boulevard in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Vasanji looks forward to welcoming new tenants to the 20,000 square foot plaza.
“The owners have decided to sell and not to rebuild the property. It has been a staple in our community for years. There have always been a lot of tenants there, good people that the community really needs,” Vasanji said. “I know the location is very vital to our community. We plan to have very nice and decent tenants who will help the community. We intend to completely rebuild the mall and make it very aesthetic.
Vasanji is also excited about the revamp of the apartments in River Oaks. When complete, the apartments will have completely new plumbing, electrical and air conditioning systems, in addition to new washers and dryers, quartz counter tops and beautiful flooring and fixtures. The renovated complex will also feature new gates with awnings, all new windows and expanded concrete areas.
Resilience features are included to help the structure withstand future disasters. These features include hurricane-resistant windows, thicker sheetrock, more durable Hardie Board siding, and two layers of roof protection, including 160-mph shingles.
The River Oaks apartment complex was built in 1982 and was originally owned by several members of the Gravois family. Ownership passed to Brock Anderson before Vasanji purchased the complex in January 2014.
Vasanji worked to renovate the units for several years when the tenants moved out. He found himself at the drawing board after the devastation of Hurricane Ida.
Fierce winds tore through the roof system, causing the ceilings of each building to collapse when Hurricane Ida tormented the parishes of the river on August 29, 2021. The complex was fully occupied at the time and several families were in inside, weathering the storm as the ceilings came down.
The day after the hurricane, authorities advised tenants to seek other means of shelter due to the dangerous conditions. FEMA helped the families find alternative housing.
“Because the units were vacant for a long time, we had to cancel all contracts,” Vasanji said, explaining that deposits will be returned to tenants once the office is operational.
The cleaning lasted the whole month of September and the reconstruction began on October 1st.
While most of the complex had to be completely gutted down to the timber frames and concrete slab, Building A suffered the least structural and water damage. Repairs were quickly made to accommodate contractors who continue to work on the other buildings in the 59-unit complex.
The apartments are expected to be rented again in July. Vasanji’s contracting company, Velocity Builders, is handling the construction.
“I’ve bought 20 other properties since I bought this one, and all the others I’ve done are new construction,” Vasanji said. “It’s nice to come back to my original property and do everything I do with my new properties.”
Vasanji continues to fight for insurance funds for River Oaks and the many hotels it operates, including one in Lake Charles that was damaged by Hurricane Laura in 2020.
“I have reopened two of the LaPlace hotels, and I have six more to open between LaPlace, Houma and Donaldsonville,” Vasanji said. “As the rebuilding process moves forward, I will always keep an eye out for opportunities that I can seize, reshape and help improve the community.”
Other projects Vasanji is working on include a new 132-unit apartment complex at the corner of Woodland and the new Highway 51 in LaPlace and a new 170-unit apartment complex under development in Metairie, adjacent to Boulevard veterans.