By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |
Some corners in this city tell quintessentially New Orleans stories, and among them is the intersection of South Broad Street and Washington Avenue. There on the trafficky Broadmoor bend, King’s Meat Market and Grocery sells gumbo-ready mixes of seasoned poultry parts named for whichever store employee or customer first divined the recipe’s proportion of legs to necks to pickled tips.
Walk outside, and to the left, boarded storefronts sit forelornly, still marked with rust-colored floodlines from Hurricane Katrina. Immediately beyond that, on the corner of Eve Street, is the hulking Sewerage & Water Board pumping station that failed to prevent the water from rising.
But if all goes as planned, this Broadmoor juncture soon will be postcard material for another quintessentially New Orleans story – one of post-Katrina reinvention.
This week, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority Board of Commissioners approved a $1 million in public financing for an $8 million, four-parcel project that intends to transform the blocks surrounding the busy intersection into a hub for social enterprise – and a symbol of the area’s journey from proposed abandonment to poster child for progressive urban renaissance.
The state-empowered authority agreed Monday to provide real estate developer Green Coast Enterprises with a $600,000 forgivable loan to build a nonprofit-owned health clinic. Planned for a former pharmacy at 3300 S. Broad St., the South Broad Community Health-operated clinic will offer, through a partnership with Tulane University Medical School, government-subsidized services on a sliding fee scale to uninsured or low-income clients.
A separate $400,000 low-interest loan will go to Green Coast and a partner organization, Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans, to transform an old rim shop at 4035 Washington Ave., into a 10,000-square-foot shared office space for start-ups, nonprofits and small businesses. Called the Green Hub, the building will be shared by Green Coast, Social Entrepreneurs, Broadmoor Development Corporation and the Broadmoor Improvement Association, as well as Global Green and other to-be-determined organizations. Any organization housed there needs to fit the project’s mission of solving “critical social issues through innovative solutions,” and creating “positive impact in the communities of Southeast Louisiana,” according to the Social Entrepreneurs website.
Around the corner, on an empty stretch from Eve Street nearly to Washington will be a location for Laurel Street Bakery, and possibly, a storefront bank or community development financial institution, said Green Coast Enterprises President Will Bradshaw. In total, the development will cost $8 million, the developer said, including the old Rim City World on Washington, the Apex Paint building and two other commercial lots on the 2700 block of Broad, as well as the former pharmacy aross the street.
“We are seeding a whole new ecosystem of social entrepreneurs to thrive in a environment that touches five of the most critical neighborhoods of the city,” Bradshaw said. “This project is a physical incarnation of a mission to support social innovation in the heart of the city.”
From its location on a key corner to its mixed-use design and emphasis on neighborhood job-creation, the project reflects the place-based approach to community development championed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu – and by the neighborhood itself. Broadmoor emerged from Katrina with a rallying cry of “Better than before” and visions of Washington Avenue as a tree-lined boulevard with cafes and small businesses.
“It was the neighborhood, and the neighborhood’s leadership that got this done,” NORA Board member James Singleton said at Monday’s meeting.
The two NORA loans – drawn from a pool of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants – must still be approved by the city and the state, which administers the federal grants. It is unlikely that either Mayor Mitch Landrieu or state officials will object because the project reflects the city’s master plan and has already garnered public support.
In May, the state awarded the project a $1 million low-interest loan through its Project-Based Recovery Opportunity Program. Like the NORA loans, the money came from the state’s pool of Community Development Block Grants. In addition to the grant-funded low-interest loans, Green Coast is using revenue from New Market Tax Credits and Historic Preservation Tax Credits to finance the project, Bradshaw said.
The Green Coast project will be the second major public-private investment in the corridor since Katrina. The first was the iconic white Rhodes Funeral home across the street, which came back to life with the assistance of a $3.2 million HUD grant and a $250,000 grant from the city’s Economic Development Fund. Another $250,000 went to Rhodes to redevelop the old Bohn Ford dealership, now a gutted frame covered in colorful murals. Rhodes did not return phone calls about the progress of that project.
It is likely more investment will come to the area. This year, the city got started with a $250,000 street improvement project that will bring trees, a crosswalk, a bike lane, lights and other amenities to the Broad and Washington intersection.
Nearby, the Keller Library will soon reopen with a coffee shop residents voted to name Green Dot Coffee. That’s a not-so-subtle thumbing of the nose at the post-Katrina plan that proposed abandoning badly flooded neighborhoods and turning them into green space, signified on planning maps as giant green dots.
“We’ve been working on these projects for a long long time,” Broadmoor Improvement Association President Latoya Cantrell said. “Now they are finally becoming real.”
But today’s reality for many in Broadmoor is still a far cry from the wholesome visions laid out in the community’s master plan. On a drizzly Thursday afternoon, an intoxicated man stumbled into King’s Meat Market and asked clerk Lashawn Buchanan for change.
“We need what we have. Go,” she said, pointing to the door. “These jokers,” she muttered, as a co-worker, Tommy Pham, cheerily explained that the rain was keeping most, but not all, the drug dealers off the corner that day.
Buchanan – inspiration for King’s eponymous $88.99 mix of chicken parts, pickled tips and turkey necks – lives with her two children on South Prieur Street, between Washington and Toledano streets, a short walk from the house where the mayor grew up.
She feels that her side of Broadmoor has gotten more dangerous since Katrina. “There is more drug activity, more killings. No jobs,” she said.
She is not the only one who feels that way. A sign on a nearby storefront implores, “Please No Chillin’ Outside,” another warns that police will be called on loiterers.
Gunshots recently killed a 16-year-old boy leaving a barber shop a block away.
“He got shot in the middle of the street, in the back. Just like that,” said King’s Market customer, Ashton Thompson.
“I feel a little safer because I grew up here,” he said, watching a butcher wrap a tidy packet of spicy turkey necks. “The dealers are still out there, but they know my dad.
“If you’re not from here, I don’t know what to say.”
Because of fears that streets are not safe for walking, Buchanan drives her 8-year-old daughter to her after-school program at Rosenwald Gym, a few blocks away. She hopes the development will bring new life to the area and make it safer so her child can walk on her own.
Perhaps even more critically, she hopes it will bring more opportunity. Across the street sits a vacant building where she would like to open a soul food restaurant.
“You say they’re building offices to help people start businesses,” she said. “How do I sign up?”