Broad Community Connections

New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: Broad Community Connections, Jan. 5, 2010

Take a spin around Broad Street, and it's impossible to miss the commercial corridor's mix of new business and lingering blight. But what the founders of Broad Community Connections see is vast potential. They see the nexus of several large projects poised to open new opportunities here.

In the immediate area, new apartment buildings have materialized from old industrial sites; the Lafitte Greenway will intersect Broad; and a pair of new hospitals are being planned nearby. Most of all, they see a neglected but intact historic route running through a string of diverse neighborhoods in the heart of the New Orleans crescent.

"Really, Broad Street is the one thing that connects them all. And so it's a place where, it's sort of uniquely New Orleans," says Jeff Schwartz, executive director of Broad Community Connections. "It's not ever going to be a Magazine Street or an Oak Street, but it will be sort of Mid-City's main street, and so we're trying to achieve that vision."

The nonprofit was formed in 2008 to revitalize Broad Street from Tulane Avenue to Bayou Road, a stretch of just under two miles. Like others doing main street revitalization work, the group offers technical assistance for businesses interested in Broad Street addresses, small grants to fix up properties and gap financing to make projects happen. It works with start-ups, and with established businesses interested in expanding to new turf, businesses with well-known local brands that can help anchor more activity.

"It's an area that I think is just very attractive to people because it's not a developer's vision, it's sort of just an organically New Orleans vision of what a neighborhood should be," says Schwartz. "Broad Street has something that you can't really foster, and it's that people come down it every single day. It's a great way of getting Uptown and downtown and Broad Street has 25 or 30,000 cars a day going by, we just have to figure out how to get them to stop."

To help do that, the group hosts a monthly flea market at the corner of Broad and Bienville streets, called Broad Flea, and it has launched the Broad Street Brewhaha, a festival celebrating the coffee and beer traditions of New Orleans. The group is working with the state to narrow Broad Street from three lanes to two and create a bicycle lane, and together with Tulane University it is creating a community health center at the former site of Ruth's Chris Steak House on Broad Street. Another priority is creating a fresh food hub, a project that envisions a retail grocer and a commercial food provider for charter schools based in the same area.

The idea behind all of these initiatives is to occupy more major buildings along Broad, provide needed services and create more local jobs.

"There's a basic element of just economic development here, but more importantly we're talking about community development, where we want businesses that are bringing something back to the neighborhoods," says Schwartz. "The more mom and pop shops you have, the more local businesses you have, the more money that stays in the local economy, and the more jobs that you can support in a given area."