Will Bradshaw on Starting Green Coast Enterprises
By Green Coast on 24 Nov 2015
Will Bradshaw is the type that looks before he leaps. Before founding Green Coast in 2007, Bradshaw thought about starting a development company for eight years.
In his early 20s and fresh out of college, Bradshaw landed what he considered to be a dream job: heading up a housing coalition in Davidson, North Carolina. Under Bradshaw’s direction, the small but capable Davidson Housing Coalition produced 50 housing units.
The coalition won numerous planning and development awards for its efforts, yet Bradshaw felt disappointed. The organization had succeeded in producing affordable homes for sale as well as the first subsidized apartments built in town in two decades, but the surrounding community more than doubled in size in the same period, increasing the need for affordable housing faster than they could produce units.
Bradshaw also worried about the loss of undeveloped land, which had been used for generations for hunting, fishing, and farming. As these areas became developed, the poorer, largely African-American residents in town experienced the most significant loss. Bradshaw believed that alternative development patterns were possible with greater emphasis on preservation of undeveloped land.
“The whole thing bothered me, because I thought there had to be a better way of doing this,” Bradshaw says.
He wanted to figure out what that “better way” was so he enrolled at Boston’s MIT in its city planning PhD program. Focused on learning about urban economics and sustainable community development, Bradshaw decided to put his education into practice and he and a friend started a real estate development business in early 2005.
He thought he had found an ideal property in the Savin Hill area of Boston right on on the waterfront near the subway line. But they decided to let the contract lapse, and his would-be partner moved to California. Then Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures hit New Orleans in August 2005.
It was a watershed moment for Bradshaw. He was captivated by the television coverage and struck by the notion that while there was an incredible human response to the manmade disaster, the government response was severely lacking. With the levee failures destroying approximately 80 percent of its buildings, New Orleans posed a unique redevelopment challenge: how could people come home without anywhere to live?
“This wasn’t New York or Houston,” Bradshaw recalls. “The city had been losing population for years, which meant the development capacity was small, but suddenly the need for development became huge.”
Less than a month later, Bradshaw attended a meeting in New York City with Leonard Riggio (owner of Barnes and Noble), his wife Louise Riggio and former NYC deputy mayor Bill Lynch. The Riggios wanted to use their family foundation to aid the city, but they needed someone on the ground in New Orleans to help determine what that aid should be.
Bradshaw agreed to be that person, and moved to New Orleans for what he thought would be a six-month stay.
Almost immediately after touching ground in New Orleans, Bradshaw began looking for vacant land in the city for building homes on. He met with many different community leaders from various organizations and politicians throughout the city, and the Gentilly community seemed like a good fit.
This was the beginning of Project Home Again (PHA), which would build high quality, energy-efficient homes for low to moderate income New Orleanians in exchange for their destroyed homes. Bradshaw found the first 20 home tract for PHA on St. Bernard Avenue in the Paris Oaks/Bancroft Park neighborhood, and today the PHA has rebuilt 171 homes throughout Gentilly, and spurring others to reinvest in many hundreds more homes around where PHA houses were rebuilt.
Though he was working for the Riggios, he never stopped thinking about starting his own company. While playing touch football, he met Reuben Teague, a young attorney, who was also interested in sustainable real estate. The two began discussing what a potential business could look like.
It would follow a triple-bottom line approach: People, Planet, and Profit. The company would positively impact the community with real estate development focused on efficiency, durability, resiliency, economic benefit, comfort, and aesthetic appeal, striving to minimize operating costs and provide spaces people enjoy living and working in.
It was a well-thought plan, but the question became where would this company be located.
Bradshaw had wound up living in New Orleans for nearly a year, and, like so many transplants, had fallen hard for the city. He had met his future wife Rebekah as well, so when he returned to Boston, it was with a heavy heart.
“I loved Boston before I was here,” Bradshaw says. “So much about it was great, but when I got back, it didn’t seem right and I didn’t feel necessary. After a few days, I realized that I was no longer fit to live anywhere other than New Orleans.”
Bradshaw packed his car and made it back to his new home by New Year’s Day 2007. A few months later in John Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, Bradshaw and Teague hammered out an agreement for beginning of Green Coast Enterprises LLC. Looking back, Bradshaw now realizes that through a series of remarkable coincidences he wound up exactly where he needed to be.
“I didn’t recognize it at the time, but everything I had done since I graduated from college was preparing me in some way to land in New Orleans after Katrina and the levee failures,” Bradshaw says. “To have the opportunity to start Green Coast, to play our small part in the recovery of this remarkable city, it has all been such an extraordinary honor.”
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