Over 100 people gathered outside an empty warehouse in New Orleans yesterday to witness the groundbreaking of a project that promises to transform a section of the city that since Hurricane Katrina has, to many, felt like a microcosm of the city itself.
The commercial redevelopment project centers around the intersection of Washington Avenue and South Broad Street, a traffic-heavy but neglected corridor connecting the neighborhoods of Broadmoor, Gert Town and Central City. It is an intersection where, several months ago, a 16-year-old was fatally shot while leaving a nearby barber shop. Drug dealers still regularly hold court on corner stoops. Currently, the intersection is home to only four visible businesses: A gas station, a fast-food restaurant, a beauty salon and a butcher shop specializing in the spicy sausages and chicken necks critical to traditional New Orleans gumbo.
Across the street stands one of the city’s oldest black-owned funeral homes, Rhodes Funeral Home. Its massive, neo-classical building had to be rebuilt after Katrina flooding decimated it. Next door stands a supermarket-size beauty supply store specializing in hair extensions.
The project announced Wednesday intends to mix things up with a new community health clinic, a hub for social entrepreneurs, a bakery cafe and a mixed-use office and retail space that will serve as headquarters for the project’s developer, Green Coast Enterprises.
Like the area it plans to make its headquarters, Green Coast is an entity that has come to symbolize post-Katrina New Orleans. Born post-storm, the company has designed and developed several post-storm housing projects and, perhaps more importantly, been vocal about the need for New Orleans to seize the opening left by Katrina to build a more sustainable city.
Green Coast president and co-founder Will Bradshaw says the company came to Broadmoor largely because others had already seized on that opening. Since the very first weeks after stormwater overtook the neighborhood, its residents have played a critical role in ensuring its recovery. Through community groups like the Broadmoor Improvement Association (BIA) and the Broadmoor Development Corporation (BDC), both of which will share office space with Green Coast in the redeveloped site, residents have injected their agency into the revitalization of a section of the city that took nearly as much water as the Lower 9th Ward.
The health clinic and other amenities included in the development are “an extension” of the revitalized corridor these groups have already developed,” said Bradshaw, referring to the community groups’ successful effort to repopulate its neighborhood after Katrina with the development of a charter school, public library and fine art and wellness center as anchors.
Green Coast isn’t working alone. To meet the specific needs of area residents, the real estate company has planned the proposed health clinic, called South Broad Community Health, in collaboration with neighborhood organizations and Tulane Medical School, which will supply the clinic with medical staff. Eventually, they hope the clinic will expand to offer preventative care in addition to the treatment that will be available when the clinic opens in the next year.
“We want to focus on education and getting people involved in knowing their bodies and knowing risk factors,” South Broad Community Health Board Chair Beth Winkler-Schmit said.
Winkler-Schmit hopes that through its grounding in neighborhood input and its emphasis on education and community outreach, neighbors will feel a sense of ownership in the project, and will choose its services over larger area hospitals.
“I want people to think ‘this is my community health center,’” she says.
Just across the street, the same logic is being applied to a different sort of community resource: HUB New Orleans, a co-working and social innovation incubator. The publicly-funded incubator will provide socially-minded startups with a collaborative environment, business assistance, desks, offices and meeting rooms. The space’s interior is designed to be open and flexible, so that it can be adapted to the changing needs of its tenants. Additionally, the building will house a fabrication studio for companies to produce models and product prototypes.
All told, the Community Green Project is expected to cost just under $9 million, $1 million of which is being contributed by the state Office of Community Development. Green Coast’s ambitious timeline predicts the project will be completed by the end of this year. If that works out, it won’t be long before this blighted intersection gets a lot livelier.