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Broadmoor neighborhood in New Orleans aiming for a resurgence around Washington and Broad

19 Jun 2014

See the article on NORA’s website.

When Will Bradshaw first came upon the building where Laurel Street Bakery now operates its Broad Street location, the storefront windows were shattered and syringes littered the floor.

Two doors down, where Bradshaw’s real estate development firm Green Coast Enterprises now has its offices and the 3 Potato 4 vegan cafe operates on the ground floor, the building festered with unaddressed Hurricane Katrina damage — then an arsonist burned some of it, Bradshaw said.

Behind that, in a building on Washington Avenue that previously housed a rim and tire shop but now serves as the brightly redeveloped Propeller incubator for entrepreneurs with social missions, Bradshaw, an expert in real estate development and urban planning with a doctorate and master’s degrees in related topics who also teaches at Tulane University, couldn’t figure out how the ceiling remained aloft because the walls had leaned outward and appeared no longer to connected to the roof.

Across the intersection of Washington and Broad, another abandoned building, now renovated to serve as a health clinic, once housed a pharmacy and later a convenience store. “The last use that we were aware of was sort of a convenience store downstairs and what was almost certainly a brothel upstairs,” Bradshaw said.

Such was the state of the Broadmoor properties in the first years after Katrina. But now, through the efforts of Broadmoor residents, Bradshaw’s environmentally and socially minded real estate company and small businesses and nonprofit organizations, the four buildings are positioned to serve as a core for a neighborhood revival.

The last piece of that redevelopment fulcrum is taking shape with the announcement last week that health clinic operator Access Health Louisiana will open a center in the fall in the building that may have housed a brothel and where renovations already are complete. Although it was the last of the four buildings to arrive at a clear plan for full occupancy, the clinic represents the origin of the push to upgrade the intersection.

Broadmoor was striving to recover from Katrina in defiance of proposals that famously listed the once-flooded neighborhood as a candidate for conversion to parkland. New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who then was president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, recalled in a speech on the redevelopment strides made by “folks … that were told their community was not going to come back, that their homes were going to be mowed down.”

In discussions with determined neighborhood residents before and after he co-founded Green Coast in 2007, Bradshaw said, he learned about an acute need for nearby health care services. He discovered alarming statistics about the health prospects of the local population. Getting a clinic became the driver for his real estate campaign.

“When you get diabetes, heart disease, other chronic diseases in this area, you die at alarming rates,” Bradshaw told the crowd gathered for the health clinic announcement.

“Health and service is what attracted us to the project,” he said before his talk.

Then there was the existing building stock, which despite having fallen into disuse and disrepair, was compelling if reimagined, Bradshaw said. Research also showed 66,000 cars passing through the intersection daily.

“The fundamentals for redevelopment, we thought, were really strong,” Bradshaw said. “There’s a lot of activity that could happen here if you can get people to stop.”

Bradshaw assembled an $8.7 million plan to finance the rehabilitation of the four buildings, which included funding from the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, private lenders and investors.

As a direct real estate investment on the private market, Bradshaw said, the economics of the project never would have worked. The public contributions made construction possible, and hopefully the neighborhood now can advance with private investment, he said.

So far, the plan seems to be working, said Hillary Guttman, who opened the second location of her Uptown Laurel Street Bakery on Broad Street in October and said traffic through the coffee shop, bakery and cafe has been brisk. Joining her in the newly refurbished buildings fronting Broad are neighborhood organizations, an environmental group and a printing business.

Guttman admits she was apprehensive about joining an effort to rehabilitate a moribund city quadrant. But she said she enjoys the role of pioneer, and Bradshaw lured her with his “energy, excitement and positive approach.”

“This location needed services, and it was kind of an open market,” Guttman said. “It’s been as busy as I needed it to be from the day we opened.”

Jehan Strouse, owner of 3 Potato 4, which is a franchise of a San Francisco-based chain that offers an assortment of organic potato fries, specialty sauces, soups and chilis, said she also sees high potential for the location, although she isn’t yet getting the customer spending she seeks. Strouse also opened in October.

“It’s like where Freret Street was before it became the Freret Street that we know,” Strouse said, referring to the stretch of Freret from Napoleon Avenue to Jefferson Avenue, which has achieved a noteworthy resurgence of restaurants, bars and shops since Katrina.

Strouse pointed out her window across the street to the most glaring open question in the neighborhood, the hulking, abandoned brick and steel shell of the Bohn Motor Co. Building and an empty lot next to it.

“There’s been nothing happening across the street, so that’s been a real bummer,” she said.

Bradshaw, however, said he thinks momentum in the neighborhood soon could lead to a solution for the Bohn building and other spots. And Cantrell, the neighborhood leader turned City Council member, said it is a priority.

“We’re going to ensure that the Bohn Ford building also comes back,” Cantrell said during the health clinic announcement.

Kelli Wright, the current president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, agreed that the old Bohn building needs a fix, along with additional blight in the neighborhood. She also wants to see a backup power supply for Pump Station 1 in the middle of Broad Street so the neighborhood has greater assurance of more reliable drainage.

But Wright said conditions have progressed significantly from the early days after Katrina when people longed for simple amenities such has having a single coffee shop operating close to home. Now there are two, Laurel Street and the Green Dot Cafe in the Keller Library, named for markings on maps that once called for the area to become green space.

“The neighborhood is better than before, which has been our goal since Katrina,” Wright said. “We now have a vibrant business district, which we did not have before Katrina. We have opportunity. We have potential.”

“I think it’s great, and I’d like to see more of it coming,” Wright said.

“We have sticks in the ground,” Cantrell said in her speech last week. “We have projects that have been realized, and it’s real and it’s exciting.”

“I just look forward to Washington and Broad being as strong as it’s ever been, ever,” Cantrell said.