By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — When Robert Torres took prospective buyers on his bulldozer, and rolled through the Lakeshore Estates swamps in 1996 to show the lots he was selling for over $200,000 each, he might have had some skeptics.
Torres purchased 5,500 acres of land in ’96 that was 5 feet below sea level in Slidell, right on the lake where the Twin Spans comes into Slidell. It needed millions of dollars of dirt to raise it, and looked like it might take decades to ever develop.
But Torres saw something few others saw—the final large piece of land that bordered the north side of Lake Pontchartrain near Slidell, and he envisioned a “city of its own one day” that could have over 30,000 people.
As 2012 rolls around, Torres’ dream of building Lakeshore Estates—which even has its unofficial name of Lakeshore, La.—appears to be picking up steam again after a five-year delay from Hurricane Katrina and the national economy slowdown.
By February, Torres, now 77, will unveil the new Lakeshore Marina, now 80 percent complete, that will house over 500 yachts and boats.
He also just began construction on the Lakeshore Motor Coach Resort, which will be followed by construction early in 2012 on a small shopping center area next to the marina, home to restaurants and retail stores.
Torres’ vision for Lakeshore Estates is back on track and picking up momentum for the most upscale region of Slidell, where 225 homes are already built and occupied, with the majority of the homes worth $1 million to $5 million. He believes Lakeshore could one day be home to over 6,000 homes.
The massive region is also home to four apartment complexes, which will soon be followed by multi-family condos next year, not to mention the 25-acre piece of land he donated to the parish where the Northshore Harbor Center currently resides.
“When I bought the land, I envisioned a city of its own,” he said this past week. “But we got delayed maybe four or five years by the economy and the storm. We never really stopped even though we were delayed, but we are moving again.”
Torres isn’t everybody’s favorite businessman, even though he has invested tens of millions of dollars here. As a developer, it goes with the territory to have some individuals or groups not so happy with projects like Lakeshore, and the things that go with it.
He had a group battle him on the recent approval by the Parish Council for the Lakeshore Motor Coach Resort, with others calling it a “trailer park” in their upscale neighborhood.
In reality, the park sits far from residential lots, across the largest canal on the property, and is not a “trailer park,” as some call it, Torres said.
“This will be a place where people with million dollar RV’s come and buy their property as their winter homes,” he said. “The RV’s that will come here will be far more expensive than the homes most people live in. It will be a beautiful resort area.”
Torres also had some of his residents get upset recently when some of his property was used by the state as a location to crush the old Twin Spans bridge. That project will be finished sometime near the middle of next year, he said, but he answered those critics by saying “the state came and asked for the use of the property. We needed a new bridge and I wanted to help out by providing the closest, large piece of land for them to bring the bridge to.”
Torres just smiles when questioned about the criticism he has endured with many stages of Lakeshore Estates.
“We haven’t done one thing here that we were not permitted to do,” he said. “We spent millions of dollars to get wetland permits and every other permit we needed. I’ve always tried to help anyone here who has come to me with a complaint, and I will always do that. But you always have some people who buy a lot, then think they own the place.”
Torres said he is building an area in Slidell that not only is providing the most upscale region of the community, but greatly upgrading Slidell’s tax rolls with many jobs.
“This area is probably adding $4 million a year, minimum, to the tax rolls in the parish, and that will only increase. We have provided hundreds of jobs and maintain a work force of no less than 40 people, even at the slowest time,” he said. “When construction starts moving again, we will provide hundreds of jobs again.”
Phase I of the Lakeshore Marina will offer 140 floating boat slips, while a dry boat storage building is also being constructed there that will house 300 boats. A yacht club will be built on the 20-acre site, with boat slips averaging $250 a month, depending on the size.
A boardwalk is being constructed all along the edge of the canal, which will be open to the public to enjoy, Torres said.
The developer said he plans to start a retail shopping area early next year, which will be close to the marina. Torres said he has already had excellent interest from restaurants and businesses wanting to be a part of it.
The motor coach resort is costing $10 million to build on that 30-acre piece of property, and is now underway after the final permits were obtained in just the past two months. It will offer 100 spots for sale, that include small homes to live in, along with a concrete pad for the RV.
The entire Lakeshore Estates property has few, if any, trees since it was previously swamp land that did not support oaks or pine trees. Torres said he is currently in the early phases of planting over 500 trees on the property.
“When I started this development, I expected it to take 20 years to finish,” Torres said. “We lost about five years, and I didn’t realize some of the permitting would be so difficult.
“But we are now completely permitted to do everything we want to do,” he said. “I know that some things we’ve done have been criticized, but some of that is jealousy, and some of that was just unfair. From the start of this develoment, we’ve tried to do everything in a conservative manner and we haven’t violated any rules.”