Mention of New Orleans’ Industrial Canal evokes certain images: a gritty shipping hub, for starters, and the scene of a tragic levee breach that ravaged the Lower 9th Ward during Hurricane Katrina.
A bucolic vacation spot, however, does not come to mind. But don’t tell that to dozens of campers who park their RVs on 20 waterfront acres along the canal in eastern New Orleans, according to The Times Picayune, New Orleans.
“They love it,” said Mark Delesdernier, who opened the New Orleans RV Campground this year with partner Scott Schenck. “People just love to have things on water.”
People love it so much that Delesdernier is about to double the capacity of the campground. Construction is under way to convert the facility from 52 to 102 parking pads. The expanded camp should be ready “hopefully in time for Mardi Gras,” Delesdernier said.
Most campers stay for weeks at a time, lured to New Orleans by post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts. Construction contractors, doctors, nurses and others are among lodgers at the RV park. About four to seven tourists arrive at the Industrial Canal outpost daily, looking to spend some time in the “Big Easy” before continuing their travels across the U.S. Delesdernier expects the number of short-term visitors to rise as city tourism picks up.
The camp’s surroundings are less than scenic, stationed beside the shipyard where Trinity Yachts Inc. hammers out massive luxury boats. But the venue does offer amenities such as wireless Internet and cable connections, a laundry room and bathrooms. A swimming pool and meeting space are in the works to cater to traffic from RV clubs, which lately have been calling Delesdernier to inquire about room for parties.
Eventually, Delesdernier hopes his park will become “a tourist mecca.” He wants to eventually build a hotel and recreational buildings, a marina and perhaps a houseboat rental service. But he is waiting until the Army Corps of Engineers completes work to strengthen flood protection in the area.
Plans for the RV park were under way in 2005, when Katrina washed away much of Delesdernier’s work.
The project was a far cry from what New Orleans business leaders imagined at the Industrial Canal when they dredged the channel in the early 1920s as a marine route between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain. At one time a repair yard for marine equipment, the campsite had been vacant for years before Delesdernier, a former commissioner on the Dock Board of the Port of New Orleans, thought about a way to reuse the land.
“It’s always a good sign when port tenants are successful in their business ventures,” Chris Bonura, a spokesman for the Port of New Orleans, said in a statement. “The owners of the company have persevered through many challenges and are starting to reap the benefits of their hard work.”