Belle Terre Shopping Center & River Oaks apartments to be fully restored

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2022

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 purchasing the Belle Terre Marche Shopping Center to support rebuilding efforts in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Clean-up of the plaza that sits on the corner of Airline Highway and Belle Terre Boulevard began Monday. Vasanji estimates the plaza restoration will cost $4 million. Meanwhile, he is leading a $6 million complete overhaul on the River Oaks apartment complex.

The Marche Plaza and River Oaks Apartments are only two pieces of Vasanji’s efforts to restore the region. He is also in the process of rebuilding a dozen single family homes and five hotels in the LaPlace area, one hotel in Donaldsonville, and a hotel and a shopping center in Houma.

Vasanji said the Belle Terre Shopping Center has been a pillar of the community, and he will make sure it continues to serve St. John Parish families for years to come.

Some businesses previously housed in the Marche Plaza, including Belle Terre Urgent Care, Tatje Insurance and The Cajun Grill, have relocated further down Belle Terre Boulevard in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Vasanji looks forward to welcoming new tenants into the 20,000 square foot plaza.

“The owners decided the sell and not rebuild the property. It’s been a staple in our community for years. It’s always had a lot of tenants there, good people that the community really needs,” Vasanji said. “I know the location is very vital for our community. We plan on having very nice, decent tenants that will help the community out. We intend on completely rebuilding the shopping center and making it very aesthetically pleasing.”

Vasanji is equally excited about the overhaul of the River Oaks apartments. Once complete, the apartments will have entirely new plumbing, electrical and AC systems, in addition to new in-unit washers and dryers, quartz countertops, and beautiful flooring and fixtures. The renovated complex will also feature new doors with canopies, all new windows and expanded concrete areas.

Resiliency features are included to help the structure withstand future disasters. These features include hurricane impact rated windows, thicker sheetrock, more durable Hardie Board siding, and two layers of protection on the roof, including 160 mph rated shingles.

The River Oaks Apartment Complex was constructed in 1982 and initially owned by several members of the Gravois family. Ownership shifted to Brock Anderson before Vasanji purchased the complex in January 2014.

Vasanji worked to renovate units over several years as tenants moved out. He found himself back at the drawing board following the devastation of Hurricane Ida.

Ferocious winds tore apart the roofing system, causing ceilings in every building to collapse when Hurricane Ida tormented the River Parishes on August 29, 2021. The complex was fully occupied at the time, and several families were inside, riding out the storm as the ceilings came down.

The day after the hurricane, authorities advised tenants to seek other means of shelter due to the hazardous conditions. FEMA assisted families in securing alternative housing.

“Since the units were vacant for an extended period of time, we had to null and void all of the contracts,” Vasanji said, explaining deposits will be returned to tenants once the office is up and running.

Clean-up took the entire month of September, and rebuilding commenced on October 1.

While most of the complex had to be completely gutted down to the wood frames and concrete slab, building A sustained the least amount of structural and water damage. Repairs were quickly made to house contractors who are continuing to work on the other buildings within the 59-unit complex.

The apartments are expected to be back up for lease 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 other ones I have done are new builds,” Vasanji said. “It’s nice to come back to my original property and do all the things I’m doing with my new properties.”

Vasanji is continuing to fight for insurance funds for River Oaks and the numerous hotels he operates, including one in Lake Charles that was damaged by Hurricane Laura in 2020.

“I’ve reopened two of the hotels in LaPlace, and I have six more to open between LaPlace, Houma and Donaldsonville,” Vasanji said. “As the rebuild process moves forward, I will always be keeping an eye out for opportunities that I can pick up, reshape and help better the community.”

Other projects Vasanji is working on include a new 132-unit apartment complex on the corner of Woodland and New Highway 51 in LaPlace and a 170-unit new apartment complex in development in Metairie off of Veterans Boulevard.