On a portion of LaSalle Street in Central New Orleans, homes are boarded up or have been torn down, overshadowing and slowly peeling away at the history of a thriving musical scene in the early 1900s. But a change is slowly taking root, and REALTORS®, community leaders, and residents are paving the way to revitalize the section of the block into its former glory.
On Friday evening during the REALTOR® Conference & Expo, the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® helped to bring a national campaign, Better Block, to LaSalle centered on rebuilding and revitalizing the neighborhood. To help with its efforts, the association received a $15,000 smart growth grant from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® to host the kick-off event and help in creating a plan to restore neighborhood structures and the Dew Drop Inn Hotel, once a hot-spot for music in the late 1930s through 1960s.
With the Better Block campaign, communities across the country are working to fight blight and show the potential of a one-to-two block stretch in neighborhoods in need of revitalization. Better Block awareness programs have included launching pop-up businesses and repairing of homes and businesses.
On Friday evening, the New Orleans Association of REALTORS®, partnering with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), created a block party to celebrate LaSalle Street’s road to rebirth. Local bands played jazz and blues music while residents mingled and children played games. Kids also etched drawings on one side of a boarded-up house that community leaders hope will serve as an art installation to display the children’s dreams for the future and community.
“This is great community outreach and really helps to highlight REALTORS®’ work with the community,” says Kelli Walker, senior director of government affairs for the New Orleans Association. The city of New Orleans is approaching 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, “and while we’ve come a long way in our recovery, there is still work to be done.”
Friday’s event was also a chance to celebrate the recent opening of Harmony Oaks, a former public housing site on LaSalle that’s been transformed into a row of 55 for-sale apartments and homes geared to mixed-income buyers.
The next step for REALTORS® and community organizers is to bring quality, small-scale commercial space to LaSalle Street, Walker says. There’s headway on that score: A once vacant lot on the street has become home to a farmer’s market every Saturday, where local entrepreneurs sell everything from fresh food to jewelry.
But the backbone of the revitalization — and what some residents refer to as the “heartbeat of LaSalle” — is the restoration of the Dew Drop Inn, which has been stripped to the beams inside. However, on Friday night, banners hung from the exterior showing some of the legendary singers who once performed there, and a video displayed inside showing the former nightclub, hotel, and restaurant that once featured legendary entertainers like Ray Charles and Little Richard. The New Orleans Association, along with NORA and the owners of Dew Drop Inn, are helping with fundraising efforts to restore the historic structure.
“This is what the REALTOR® Party is all about,” said Chris Polychron, 2015 president of NAR, as he attended the block party. “We can make a big difference in neighborhoods, and build relationships with the community and REALTORS®. This is just one type of the project where we can have far-reaching [impact] through the REALTOR® Party Outreach Community Program.”
NAR’s outreach program assists local associations in getting involved in their communities, such as taking part in city revitalization projects, supporting land use regulations and decisions, and transforming unused or underused properties. Associations can apply for Smart Growth Action grants, which support state and local REALTOR® association community efforts.