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Blighted New Orleans intersection at Broad, Washington set for transformation

25 Apr 2012

In a major effort to revive the once-vibrant commercial hub at the corner of South Broad Street and Washington Avenue, developers and city officials broke ground Wednesday on an $8.7 million project that will turn four blighted buildings into a health clinic, storefronts, and offices for community groups and socially minded entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, work is expected to begin this summer to convert the former Bohn Ford building across South Broad Street into a three-story office building with space for restaurants.

That renovation, expected to cost $6.8 million, will honor the 1926 structure’s original architecture, with massive window bays and glass-enclosed offices reminiscent of the building’s days as a car dealership, said members of the Rhodes family, which bought the building adjacent to its funeral home in mid-August 2005.

Both projects are expected to provide a boost for the busy intersection, which fell on hard times long before Hurricane Katrina and sits at the nexus of four Uptown neighborhoods: Broadmoor, Gert Town, Hoffman Triangle and Zion City. Only a few businesses have survived there, including a gas station, a corner grocery, a nail salon and a takeout restaurant that does a brisk business in fried seafood.

“The intersection was basically shut down for a number of years,” said Will Bradshaw of Green Coast Enterprises, developer of the four-building project, dubbed “Community Green.”

“We’re excited about being what we think is the largest investment in a generation at that intersection,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, ordinarily a staid, soft-spoken bureaucrat, described the corner as the focal point of the neighborhood where he grew up and where, as a child, he met his current boss, Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

“You had to rebuild Broad and Washington because it’s a crossroads of New Orleans,” Grant said. “We’ve used this place every day of our lives, and it’s in our hearts and souls.”

In recent years, the intersection has seen its share of crime, including a rush-hour shooting a year ago that left one man dead and two injured. Another man was murdered there in January.

Bradshaw and his partners are concerned about violence in the area, he said.

“But it’s also why we’re doing this,” he said. “Places that don’t have opportunity and activity lend themselves to crime, and one of the things we are very actively trying to do is to help reinvigorate that intersection to being a true commercial node.”

The Community Green project will create 28,400 square feet of commercial space anchored by the South Broad Community Health clinic, which will be run in partnership with Tulane Medical School.

Holding long-term leases in the other buildings are Green Coast’s corporate office, a new Laurel Street Bakery location, Global Green USA’s NOLA Wise project, the Broadmoor Improvement Association, the Broadmoor Community Development Corp. and HUB New Orleans, a business incubator.

The project is financed with $1 million in federal recovery money from the state’s Project-Based Recovery Opportunity Program, $750,000 from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, historic and new-market tax credits, and private dollars, Bradshaw said.

As that work gets under way, architects are putting the finishing touches on the design of the Rhodes business center, a 27,000-square foot redevelopment of the Bohn Ford building that since 2009 has been emblazoned with an enormous, colorful mural commissioned by the Rhodes family.

“If things go well, in 45 days they ought to start nailing something,” said Stephanie Rhodes Navarre, whose family owns and operates the funeral home her ancestor started in 1884, as well as life insurance and limousine companies.

Construction is expected to take six months, and several businesses, including a sandwich shop, a vegan restaurant, a florist and a tuxedo shop, have already expressed interest in leasing space there, said Kathleen Rhodes Astorga, another member of the ownership group.

The family also plans to move some of its corporate offices into the building and to open a “bereavement center” to provide grief counseling, as well as a small museum to educate visitors about the operations of the Sewerage & Water Board’s mammoth Drainage Pump Station No. 1, which sits just across the street.

Because of its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the former car dealership will be renovated with an eye toward restoring original details such as windows and an art deco crest above the front door, the sisters said.

The building was designed by renowned New Orleans architect Emile Weil, who also designed the Saenger Theatre and the Tivoli Theater, which the Rhodes family converted into its Washington Avenue funeral home and headquarters in 1969, then rebuilt at a cost of more than $4 million after Katrina.

Though a majority of the project’s budget is privately financed, it has secured $250,000 from the city’s Economic Development Fund and $1.5 million from the state’s Project-Based Recovery Opportunity Program, Astorga said.

Rhodes purchased the Bohn Ford building for $445,000 two weeks before Katrina with plans to move its funeral services there while the funeral home was renovated, Navarre said. After the storm, the family decided to use the building to develop a business center in hopes of helping the neighborhood.

“We just believed that if we returned, we could renew the community,” she said.

Both developments are about a quarter-mile from the Rosa F. Keller Library at 4300 S. Broad St., which reopened in March and features the Green Dot Cafe, a coffee and sandwich shop cheekily named for the rejected post-storm plan to turn the vast low-lying neighborhood into green space.

Michelle Krupa can be reached at or 504.826.3312.