A Long Time Coming
By Green Coast on 19 Dec 2015
It took three and half years to arrive at the Pythian building’s groundbreaking ceremony, but it has been time well spent. With a southern breeze blowing on a warm New Orleans fall day, Green Coast President Will Bradshaw addressed a crowd of friends, family, co-developers, and supporters in Duncan Plaza. Across Loyola Avenue, the Pythian stood as it has for more than 100 years.
“You never do anything worthwhile without the support of hundreds of people, and that is certainly true today,” said Bradshaw. “I would be remiss not to begin at the very beginning, with the colored Knights of Pythias. When they commissioned this building in the early 1900’s, Jim Crow was at its height in New Orleans and throughout the South.”
When it was built, the Times Picayune referred to it as the largest economic undertaking by African Americans in U.S. history, and it reflected a sea change literally and figuratively in the New Orleans landscape. It quickly became a center for African American businesses and culture, and the burgeoning jazz scene. When Green Coast’s other principal Lex Kelso spoke later on, he pointed out how it was also the tallest building in the area.
“At the time, this was the back-of town,” Kelso said. “Think of much of today’s Treme and Mid-City neighborhoods, one and two-story wood frame buildings.”
The New Orleans Downtown is now dotted with numerous skyscrapers, but over the course of many years the Pythian fell into disrepair and empty. Green Coast and co-developers ERG Enterprises and Crescent City Community Land Trust will return the Pythian to its previous glory and reinvigorate it as a community-centered development with a health clinic, workforce and market-rate apartments, a public market and available office space.A lineup of featured speakers – ERG’s Barrett Cooper, CCCLT’s Julius Kimbrough, Gwen Thompkins, Camille Strachan from the National Trust Community Investment Corporation Board, Stonehenge Capital’s Mackenzie Ledet and District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell – showed the collaborative effort it took to bring the project to this stage. Ephesian Baptist Church’s Reverend Jesse Earls gave the benediction.
The celebration included more than the groundbreaking. It was also Bradshaw’s birthday, and he gave thanks to his family and staff and the lessons he learned from the first developer he ever met – his father, Bill Bradshaw.
“The thing I learned most clearly is when things are going well, you treat the people around you well,” Bradshaw said. “And when things are going poorly, you treat the people around you well. This is a handy lesson for much more than work.”
With the speeches concluded and thanks given, the crowd crossed the street to gather in front of what had brought them together: The Pythian. Simply walking wouldn™t cut it on this day, and led by Darryl “Dancing Man” Young and the Pocket Aces Brass Band, the group second lined in celebration to the beginning of a uniquely New Orleans renewal.
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