By Paul Purpura In The Times-Picayune 

About a year after the search began for a new master developer for Federal City in Algiers, elected and business officials gathered for a contract signing at the site Thursday. They ceremonially heralded the contract with Vista Louisiana LLC as representing a new phase in the conversion of the shuttered Naval Support Activity into a neighborhood that includes residences and businesses.

“Today is not as much a new commitment in as much as a re-commitment we made to the Algiers community, the Marines and the Coast Guard,” state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, told the gathering at the Federal City YMCA. “This is just us renewing the promises we made years ago, that Federal City would be the life blood of this community.”

The Algiers Development District, of which Morrell is a member and which owns most of the former Navy base, signed a 10-year contract with Vista Louisiana LLC, a partnership formed specifically for Federal City that includes a real estate developer and a construction firm. Vista is charged with converting about 118 acres of the former Navy base into a mixed-use development that would include residential areas, business, entertainment and other amenities, contained in a neighborhood almost the size of the French Quarter.

The land to be redeveloped is outside the 29-acre Marine Corps Support Facility New Orleans, regarded as Federal City anchor tenant. The land is home to the national headquarters for Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North.

State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, who chairs the Algiers Development District that owns most of the site, said his group is confident in its selection of Vista Louisiana LLC. Federal City “is in good hands,” Arnold said before signing contract documents on behalf of the Algiers board.

“We selected the right team to move this project forward,” said Bill Oliver, a former AT&T/BellSouth executive and Army Reserve veteran who chairs the Federal City Joint Development Committee, which oversees the project. “Federal City is open for business, and open to the public,” he said.

Federal City’s first phase has been completed, with the opening of the Marine Corps Support Facility New Orleans and several supporting projects. Vista will oversee the what’s regarded as the second phase, which is the land and buildings outside the Marine Corps installation.

The Coast Guard Sector New Orleans headquarters is adjacent to Federal City and often is referred to as a tenant. However, the Coast Guard technically stands independent of Federal City, through a land transaction completed with the Navy before it closed the Naval Support Activity in September 2011.

Vista Louisiana LLC is the second master developer on the project. The first was HRI/ECC, a partnership that included New Orleans’ HRI Properties. That teamwithdrew as master developer a year ago, although it remains involved in Federal City.

The new master developer is a partnership that includes Vista Partners, a real estate development firm Vista Trust and DeVere Construction, a contractor that has worked in 34 states and 14 countries. Dick Crittenden, DeVere’s chief executive, said the company has done work in the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina and has a track record of tapping local subcontractors for its projects.

“We hire local, use local,” he said. He added that locally, DeVere does business with First NBC Bank.

“This is going to be phenomenal,” said City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey. “It’s a wonderful opportunity … to see and to show our community is open and that it is going to be inclusive and will have job opportunities for everyone.”

Vista Louisiana will develop a new master plan for Federal City, building on the one completed in 2008. Arnold said Vista will hold community meetings in developing the new plan. Those meetings have not been scheduled.

“We want your comments,” Arnold said. “We want your input. We want Federal City to be successful.”

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