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Partner Spotlight: Lex Kelso and GCE Development

By Green Coast on 29 Sep 2015

It began with a desire to build something.

As Green Coast principal Lex Kelso puts it, “I wanted to be able to kick what I did.”

After almost 10 years, Kelso and Green Coast Development can proudly kick a lot of renovated buildings and properties in the New Orleans area:

• More than $150 million in investment
• More than 980 housing units and
• 30,000 square feet in commercial space.

Green Coast’s newest project, the Pythian at 234 Loyola Avenue, will provide fresh food, health care, physical therapy, and non-profit office space as well as housing.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, Kelso returned to his native city of New Orleans to help his sister move back into her house. An MIT graduate with a Ph.D. in economics, Kelso owned a successful Boston firm, but after 25 years of providing management consulting, he wanted a change.

He started building condos in the Irish Channel and he also met another MIT guy, Will Bradshaw, who had just founded Green Coast. The two would spend afternoons driving around New Orleans looking at properties. Kelso agreed with Green Coast’s triple bottom line approach “People, Planet and Profit” and the two men soon found an intriguing set of buildings at the then heavily-traveled but neglected intersection of Washington Avenue and Broad Street.

Knowing the community’s need for accessible health care and seeing the enormous potential in the intersection’s historic blighted buildings, they began planning to construct a health clinic, using it as a linchpin to finance other renovations surrounding it. Today, the Washington and Broad corridor boasts a new clinic; Propeller, an incubator for socially conscious entrepreneurs; office space and local businesses.

This wasn’t a simple project and required innovative financing; Green Coast received a national award for Financial Innovation on the project. One of their principal goals was to structure the financing so that the community owns the clinic building after seven years.

Kelso, who also volunteers as the board President for Boys Town of Louisiana, says, “If we just wanted to make money, we’d build strip malls in the suburbs.”

The Pythian at 234 Loyola Avenue

When Green Coast discovered the 234 Loyola Ave property, they found a blighted nine-story building that hadn’t been occupied in almost a decade. But like the neglected Washington and Broad business corridor, Kelso and Bradshaw immediately saw tremendous potential in the historically significant architecture and an opportunity to improve a distressed area of the city.

Federal and state governments give historic tax credits, which can be used to secure financing for projects that preserve and restore the historic fabric of cities, and the Pythian qualifies. Additionally, the New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) program provides federal tax credits to promote investment in low-income communities, which include the neighborhood around the Pythian.

In order to qualify for the NMTC program, the Pythian restoration project has to provide benefits to the community, which is both medically under-served and has been designated by the USDA as a food desert for its lack of available fresh food.

These requirements fell perfectly in line with Green Coast’s philosophy of putting people and planet first.

With the historic tax credits, NMTCs and other investors in place, the Pythian mixed-use building is expected to open in early 2017 with the following features:

• A floor and a half of public market: ready to eat, sit down, and fresh food for cooking;
• A Federally Qualified Health Care Clinic and a Magnolia Physical Therapy clinic;
• 69 apartments, which will make downtown living affordable for middle-income people who can™t normally afford to live there; and
•" Building will be LEED certified.

For Kelso and Green Coast Development, transforming blighted properties into community assets is something the company wants to be known for.

“It took me many years to get back to New Orleans and to become a developer” says Kelso. “I want to get it right.”

Categories: Company News

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