By Kelli A. Walker
Sr. Director of Governmental Affairs
New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS®
When our association was approached about working on a Better Block project for the NAR Annual Conference here in New Orleans, I immediately knew this was something we had to do. The city of New Orleans is approaching 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, and while we have come a long way in our recovery, there is still work to be done. The Better Block project provided us with a unique opportunity as a local REALTOR® association to work with community partners, the local government, residents, and the business community to revitalize an area in desperate need of assistance but lacking in the resources to see it through.
One of our first partners was the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) and we immediately began working with them to identify the perfect location for our space. The city has made tremendous efforts to rehabilitate and revitalize neighborhoods and business districts, so finding an area that had a vision but lacked adequate resources was initially more difficult than we had imagined. We ended up finding what has become a great space and a perfect partnership in Central City.
We identified a portion of LaSalle Street that looked as though it had been forgotten. Along one side, the former site of the Magnolia Housing Projects had been redeveloped into exquisite mixed-income housing. Across the street and a couple blocks over, a vacant lot had been transformed into the Market on LaSalle, where nearby residents have become entrepreneurs, selling their goods to neighbors and other New Orleanians. However, in the midst of this vibrant market and attractive new housing, the area is still in in need of rehabilitation and reactivation including a closed seafood restaurant, a vacant lot, a boarded up single family home, and the historic Dew Drop Inn. The Dew Drop Inn was a combination nightclub, hotel, restaurant and barber shop that was very popular from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, once hosting acts from Ray Charles to Little Richard. This area became the focus of Better Block NOLA.
The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® and NORA then partnered with Harmony Neighborhood Development, as well as the owners of the Dew Drop Inn and the seafood restaurant, to begin working on the project. We participated in a keynote presentation and workshop with Andrew Howard from Team Better Block, which we were able to host using funds from a NAR Smart Growth Grant. After getting information on best practices, guidance on how much we could feasibly accomplish, and a packet of instructions on building pallet furniture, we began to work on turning the vision into reality.
Typical Better Block projects have activated a commercial corridor on both sides of a street. In true New Orleans fashion, we’re doing this one a little differently. Because Harmony Oaks is on one side of LaSalle, we are only activating the opposite side. Even so, we have many exciting things planned for the space. We are reducing the street in front of the space from two lanes to one, adding a bike lane and parklets in the closed space. We are using the restaurant for its intended purpose, turning it into Café LaSalle, where attendees can purchase food from local vendors and enjoy café seating. We are placing a stage in the vacant lot, and hope to have 3-4 local bands playing everything from jazz to blues to brass music. The Dew Drop Inn will be partially open for people to learn about the site and to see what the plans are for its resurrection. Additionally, we are hoping to use the boarded house as part of an art installation where local children can showcase their dreams for themselves and the community.
We hope those attending the conference will join us on November 7th from 5-9 pm for a great night of music, history, kids’ activities, and great local food, as we work to bring back a corridor that is an integral part of the history of New Orleans. See more information on the Better Block event on 11/7 in NOLA.