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Harrell Building spotlights Central City’s comeback

3rd December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Philip Stelly
Contributing Writer

The revitalization of Central City got a major boost last week with the dedication of the Harrell Building, a refurbished structure that counts the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) as its anchor tenant. _MG_0873

The Harrell Building, named for the late Rev. Louis B. Harrell, is part of a $20.6 million redevelopment project that includes the King Rampart Apartments, comprised of 70, one- and two-bedroom apartments for senior citizens.

Both buildings are the latest projects in the revitalization of Central City, a once vibrant commercial district catering to African Americans. The district’s main drag, Dryades Street, had fallen on hard times, but has been on the upswing as the renamed Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.

At the dedication ceremony, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the renovation of the Harrell Building represents yet another development success story in the city. “The development community is responding with a high level of confidence in New Orleans,” he said.

Other speakers at the dedication ceremony, focused on additional projects in Central City as a sign of the area’s resurgence. Jeff Hebert, executive director of NORA, pointed to a nearby school building on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard that will be renovated to house a fresh food market on its ground floor and offices on its upper floors. Across the street from the King Rampart Apartments are a new police station, several new single-family homes, and a condominium under construction.

These projects join pioneers in the neighborhood like the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and the restaurant Café Reconcile, which is expanding to accommodate more patrons. “We are realizing what once was and we are making it better than it ever was,” Mayor Landrieu said.

Key to Central City’s redevelopment, he said, is the public-private partnerships that make new investments possible. NORA, for example, worked closely with the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, which developed and owns the Harrell Building. Gulf Coast purchased new market housing tax credits, providing the money to refurbish the building. The King Rampart Apartments was built with funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, or NSP2.

Other partners in these projects are the Louisiana Office of Community Development, Louisiana Housing Corporation, The Finance Authority of New Orleans, Enterprise, LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), and J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. Ashton Ryan, Jr., chairman of GHCP, said these newest projects help revitalize a commercial corridor and provide a place where people can live.

NORA has signed a 10-year lease with an option to purchase the building in the eighth year. The city’s lead redevelopment agency will occupy three floors of the building with lobby and elevator access on the ground floor.

The remaining ground floor space will be leased by commercial tenants. A coffeehouse, Velvet Central Coffee, expects to open its doors soon.

During the dedication ceremony, many speakers praised the efforts of Jim Singleton, a longtime community activist who once represented Central City as a City Councilman. Singleton, who now serves as chairman of NORA’s board of commissioners, said the revitalization of Central City is the culmination of a vision. “We said we were going to do these things (to revitalize Central City) and we’re doing it,” he said.

This article originally published in the December 3, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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