Decades ago, Al Copeland Sr. had big plans for the lakefront property he bought in Mandeville: a 30,000-square-foot family compound with horse stables, a helipad and, of course, his over-the-top Christmas light display.
Mandeville residents and officials shuddered.
The fried chicken magnate never built his mansion on the north shore. But now there are even bigger plans for the 29-acre property: a $150 million LSU-affiliated retirement community that promises to benefit cancer research and includes restaurants, retail stores, a boutique hotel and an age-restricted apartment complex.
How Mandeville will react to this proposal, announced Thursday by the LSU Health Foundation, is an open question. But municipal and St. Tammany Parish officials have expressed support for the concept.
Mayor Clay Madden and Parish President Mike Cooper were among those who offered positive statements in LSU Health Foundation’s announcement. So did the Parish Council representative for the area, Maureen O’Brien, and City Council member Skelly Kreller, whose district includes the site.
The project is also drawing support from the neighborhood where it’s located. Eric McVicker, president of the Mariners Village Master Association, says the foundation has been responsive to concerns, mainly over erosion from the marina in the neighborhood.
A 29-acre tract of land in Mandeville that the Al Copeland family donated to the LSU Health Foundation will be the site of a $150 million mixe…
Kreller called the project the type of investment that Mandeville needs, and he said he didn’t hear any immediate feedback from constituents after LSU Health Foundation’s announcement. But he said he expects things to “heat up” once public meetings begin.
That’s often the case with development in Mandeville, and particularly on the lakefront, which many view as sacrosanct. The Copeland property, a $7 million tract that the family donated to the LSU Health Foundation about 10 years after Al Copeland died, is one of two remaining vacant parcels along Lake Pontchartrain.
The other is the almost 80-acre Pre-Stressed Concrete site, the subject of a controversial land use battle over another mixed-use development, Port Marigny. That project, ultimately shot down by the City Council in 2017, dominated Mandeville politics for the better part of two years.
Madden, who was on the City Council during the Port Marigny debate, said he thinks the retirement community is a great idea and that his administration will work with LSU Health Foundation and the developer, Woodward Interests, which has signed a 99 year land lease with the nonprofit.
“Nothing is official yet,” Madden said. “I hope it’s not going to be a Port Marigny. It doesn’t seem like it’s getting as much pushback. I do expect some.”
At-large City Council member Rick Danielson called the retirement community “a very different project” from Port Marigny. The Copeland property is much smaller than Port Marigny, which drew complaints from residents who saw it as out-of-scale with the area and far too dense, raising traffic concerns.
This development, by contrast, is a retirement community, Danielson said, and its residents won’t be on nearby roads at peak traffic hours.
Danielson hasn’t heard any negative reaction. “To me, it makes great use of that 20- plus acres that’s been neglected,” he said.
Matt Altier, president and CEO of the LSU Health Foundation, said retired adults do everything a community would like: They don’t drive during rush hour but they shop and go out to eat at times when other customers are scarce — midday during the week.
The property consists of two pieces of land and a marina that is currently not in use. Plans call for building the apartment complex, restaurants, store and hotel on the waterfront section, with the apartment building being the first phase.
A 5-acre parcel that is not contiguous with the waterfront land could become the site of an assisted living and memory care center if the developer’s market research shows the need, Altier said. That center would provide training opportunities in geriatrics to LSU Health Sciences Center students.
The as-yet unnamed development will be marketed first to the LSU’s 240,000 alumni as an opportunity to live in a university-affiliated community that will include LSU amenities such as continuing education classes and shuttle service to LSU football games.
“LSU will be all over it,” Altier said.
While it would be the first such project in Louisiana, Altier said, they’ve been around for awhile, for example, at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where the development is associated with its medical school.
Altier, previously vice president for new business development for the LSU Health Sciences Center, said such a project makes sense because of demographic trends, with 10,000 baby boomers set to retire every day for the next 20 years.
During a discussion about the idea, Altier said Al Copeland Jr., who is on the foundation’s board, asked if the land could be used for that purpose. Copeland set a condition: Most of the money the foundation makes from the land lease goes to cancer research, 60%, according to Altier, with the remainder to be used mainly for student scholarships.
“None of this would have happened without the generosity of Al Copeland Jr., ” Altier said. Al Copeland Sr. died of a rare cancer, and it was LSU Health Sciences Center doctors who developed a treatment for it. “He has a passion to cure cancer,” Altier said of the late millionaire’s son.
Many details of the project have yet to be pinned down. What will be the age restriction on the apartment complex, for example? Altier said most places set 55 as the threshold, and LSU will probably start there. The number of apartment units hasn’t been determined either, nor has the rent.
But the number of housing units will be within Mandeville’s zoning requirements, Altier said.
Currently the project is in the architectural and engineering design phase, which includes land surveys, test pilings and permitting, a process that will take 12 to 18 months.
“We believe it’s too nice of a site to not turn it into something that is wonderful,” Altier said.