In the 1950s and ‘60s, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard was a thriving commercial district beloved by New Orleans’ African-American community. After decades of disinvestment, the boulevard has turned a corner and is starting to blossom, once again, into a lively center for commerce and the arts. Down in the Big Easy, we explore how local businesspeople, JPMorgan Chase philanthropists, and creative community thinkers have brought the boulevard back to life.
The views and opinions expressed by the participants of this panel are those of the individuals speaking and do not reflect the views and opinions of JPMorgan Chase & Co. or its affiliates. The material contained herein is intended as a general market and economic commentary, in no way constitutes J.P. Morgan research and should not be treated as such. Further, the information and any views contained herein may differ from that contained in J.P. Morgan research reports.
Chicago-bred, LA-based, and frequently airport-bound, standup comedian (Inside Amy Schumer) and radio vet (The Moth) Brian Babylon brings his years of performing across thecountry to three sponsored episodes.
is the Executive Director and Sr. Commercial Banker for JPMorgan Chase in the Greater New Orleans Area.
is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Ashé Cultural Center inNew Orleans.
is the Founder and Executive Director of Good Work Network, helpingsmall business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs get closer to their business goals.
is the President of the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership which works toprovide affordable housing.
PREROLL: The following is a paid podcast from JPMorgan Chase. This special message from JPMorgan Chase highlights its work in communities around the countr
Brian Babylon: If the hot jazz intro didn’t make it obvious enough, this week, I’m in New Orleans. I can’t get enough of that crawfish, gumbo, and Preservation Jazz Hall … but I’m here to check out one street in particular - Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, also known as O.C. Haley Boulevard.
Located in the neighborhood of Central City, O.C. Haley is off the beaten path in New Orleans. Not too long ago, it was in a state of disrepair, down and out after decades of stagnation. But over the last fifteen years, a combination of philanthropists, business people, and community members have collaborated to spark a resurgence on O.C. Haley. Today, it’s an area of vibrant, undiscovered energy.
Hey, it’s Brian Babylon again, back for another paid episode of Placemakers from JPMorgan Chase. In these episodes, I’m digging into incredible urban revitalization projects spearheaded by JPMorgan Chase.
Today, I’m taking you to New Orleans. We’re going to trace O.C. Haley’s resurgence, which began in the late nineties, and get to the bottom of how an ailing community was able to stage its own revival.
KL: O.C. Haley Boulevard is a four-lane boulevard it, was an area where historically the stores were owned by Jewish merchants. African Americans shopped here because they really were not free to shop in other places in New Orleans. And then there, frankly, was a parting of the ways when the merchants refused to hire. That was, coincidentally, also the time when the shopping malls appeared, and segregation ended, so people had options -- they didn't have to shop here anymore. So the buildings, frankly, became abandoned and for a long time sad abandoned.
Brian: That’s Kathy Laborde, President & CEO of a non-profit real estate group called Gulf Coast Housing Partnership. They focus on getting affordable housing and commercial space into the hands of community residents. Kathy’s been at Gulf Coast for over a decade, but her work on O.C. Haley Boulevard goes much further back. Her deep knowledge of the area’s history is evident.
KL: It's been the victim of severe disinvestment over a long period of time. But if you were to drive down the street you'd see this four-lane boulevard with historic buildings flanking to the left and the right, with some vacant lots in between.
Brian: Greg Rattler is a Relationship Executive at JPMorgan Chase’s Commercial Bank Unit and grew up in New Orleans not far from the boulevard. I spoke with him about how he remembers O.C. Haley back in its heyday and how it’s changed over time.
GR: I have very fond memories of the O.C. Haley Central City Corridor. Many of the early memories I have of that part of New Orleans dates back to the original Dryades YMCA, where I first learned to swim.
GR: Although central city was not devastated by the flood waters from the levy failure, it had been kind of decimated in a different way, if you think about, with the out migration of capital and businesses probably starting in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Prior to that, it had been the central business district primarily for African-American shoppers.
Brian: By the late-nineties, the boulevard had developed a reputation as a seedy, vacant section of Central City. Carol Bebelle, founder of Ashé Cultural Arts Center on O.C. Haley, remembers it well.
CB: We came to this boulevard when it essentially had been given up to urban blight. There wasn't very much here that was about propagating life and vitality. What you had was four or five churches who were trying to convince people who were in pretty bad circumstances - who were sex workers, some of them were drug users, folks who were very poor - that they deserved better. I hadn't come down this street in god knows how long at the time Kathy Laborde decided to develop the building that we're in on the boulevard now.
Brian: Ashé was one of the first organizations that Kathy, the real estate developer at Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, worked with. Kathy and Carol met and discovered that each had a vision to revive the ailing neighborhood.
CB: It was either early ‘98 or late ‘97 when we sat with her. And she had a vision of being able to reclaim this corridor, and not just the people who were on it. And to begin the process of a renaissance on the boulevard.
Brian: Carol is an artist and community organizer at heart. Kathy, is a developer with a passion to help underserved communities. They weren’t just looking for someone to put money into their organizations. They were looking for a partner who understood the needs of the community and the people who lived there.
KL: It's very important that these developments that we're doing are also reinforcing to the folks that live in the community that this is an important neighborhood. It will be an important neighborhood in the future. And we’re trying to get people to understand how they can become vested in this neighborhood so they don't have to leave in the future. So all these things are important, and we're just trying to lead by example. You know, people have to see things to believe that they're going to happen. We can plan a lot, we can read our plans, you know, we can put our planning books on the shelf. But once buildings actually begin to get renovated or constructed, people notice that and frankly they notice the end result, too.
Brian: Revitalizing a neighborhood is a tricky balance. On one hand, you want to rebuild to attract foot traffic, new residents and the economic upswing they bring. On the other hand, you also want to maintain the character and integrity of the neighborhood. And you don’t want price out the folks who’ve been living there for decades. To achieve their visions, Kathy and Carol both wanted to work with funders who understood this delicate balance.
JPMorgan Chase proved to be just the partner they were looking for.
Greg Rattler of JPMorgan Chase explains the initiative behind the bank’s involvement in Central City.
GR: If you look back over the history of this firm-- it's always had a very unique role in basically the building, and rebuilding from time to time, of America. That dates back to our origin. And so what you see from the leadership in the firm all the way down to the employees who volunteer on their personal time, we are very active in the communities where we do business. It's not only a place to do business, but for most of us, it's where we live, it's where we worship, it's where we play, and so it's logical then that we will make these strategic investments in areas where we can leverage the strength of the firm, but at the same time recognize that our employees really care about the places where they live and do business.
Brian: When JPMorgan Chase entered the picture, both Gulf Coast and Ashé found the partner they had been looking for. Gulf Coast received operating funding. And with a collaborative effort from JPMorgan Chase and Gulf Coast, Ashé was able to purchase and renovate two arts facilities and three residential properties on O.C. Haley. This grounds them on the boulevard in a way that would never have been possible without the combined philanthropic and commercial investments.
At Ashé, Carol talks about her experience working with JPMorgan Chase, and how the Center has been able to work with the community.
CB: So, our first opportunity to kind of work with them was when we came here to the boulevard and as it was really after the disaster of 2005 Katrina, and JPMC was on the ground and looking at how to be helpful, how to be a contribution, and so for us, the first big thing that that was done was that JPMC contributed to us beginning to buy our property.
CB: Here we were, a cultural organization, living primarily on grants, and with the potential of having income from apartments right? And so JPMorgan Chase decided to contribute to buying the property, and then they decided to finance us for the portion that we couldn’t accumulate, which was a huge thing. Okay so we’ve got like 31 or 32 apartments, and then we've got like a thousand events that happen a year, over 40,000 people who come through here while that's going on there's so much learning, consciousness raising, connecting, engaging, mobilizing, organizing, art making that's going on. And so all of that is has been facilitated by the fact that we have these properties.
Brian: Nowadays, artists and performers have both a space to share their work and a place to live on the boulevard. And these artists seem pretty at home here.
The artist lofts are a beautiful space for the artists here to come together, to be in community, and to create.
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Brian: After talking with Carol, I understood how a bank and a non-profit real estate developer could work with a grassroots cultural center to rejuvenate an arts scene and bolster a community.
It’s also clear from walking around the area that O.C. Haley has a burgeoning small-business sector - Lining the boulevard are new places to eat, little shops, a marketplace, and even a new jazz venue. It’s much like I imagine it would’ve been in the 1940s and ‘50s, but with bus stop ads for smartphones and delivery services instead of old-timey cigarettes and pomade.
A couple blocks down from Ashé, there’s a business incubator called the Good Work Network. They’ve been a big part of helping new businesses thrive on the boulevard.
PC: My name is Phyllis Cassidy. I'm the founder and executive director of Good Work Network in New Orleans.
PC: So Good Work Network basically helps minority and women-owned business start, grow, and succeed. We provide business development services for entrepreneurs at all stages of the business cycle-- from just having an idea that they're trying to put together, to strategic growth phases.
Brian: Good Work’s mark on the boulevard is clear - they’ve helped everyone from contractors in the area to the Mexican restaurant owners down the street.
Brian: Phyllis explains how JPMorgan Chase has given them the ability to do the, well, good work, that they do.
PC: So we bought a piece of property in 2008 on Oretha Castle Haley, which was in a very severe state of disrepair -- basically un-occupiable -- and decided to renovate it, and locate our offices here. Now we had no talent in this particular area, but JPMorgan Chase had a business plan competition, and sure enough we won the competition, and got a $25,000 grant, and that really launched our efforts to raise funds and do all the things that were necessary to revitalize this building, so Chase also gave us $150,000 grant, they provided the long term funding for the building. You know quite frankly this whole renovation wouldn’t have been possible without JPMorgan Chase… and since then the whole street has just boomed, you know. So it was really one of the sort of seminal projects that caused the revitalization of the street to completely take off.
Brian: JPMorgan provided the Good Work Network the startup capital they needed to get their organization off the ground. In turn, Good Work has now been able to provide business up and down the block with startup resources they need to get off the ground.
Rooted in their prime physical location on the boulevard, Good Work has had their finger on the pulse of the neighborhood for almost a decade now, and they have galvanized the entrepreneurial spirit. One of my favorite projects of theirs is the Roux Carré. It’s an outdoor food court they built right next to their offices, where food entrepreneurs can test out restaurant concepts.
PC: In addition to the Franz Building which we completed in 2015, we just completed the development of an outdoor food court, the Roux Carré, next to our office building -- so we now kind of own the whole front block on Oretha Castle Haley. And that's a development where we incubate five emerging food entrepreneurs, and we have an emerging artists program -- it's kind of a community gathering space. You know, being here our offices, our old storefront, we have windows out onto the street and just seeing the people pass and being part of the community, just sort of gives a life and now with Roux Carré, seeing the community come in and eat and celebrate and listen to good music. It infuses us with a spirit that kind of is invaluable, I don't know how else you could get that.
Brian: Here’s what some of the vendors have to say about Roux Carré and the opportunities that O.C. Haley offers them.
Vendor montage: Being here on the Oretha Castle Boulevard I think is a great opportunity for us… Uh the number one here right now is our cochon de lait po’ boy. It’s French for suckling pig… we serve Meson-American food… it’s amazing because people don’t know about our food and we introduce it, so it’s like a new experience… our customers come back time and time and tell us how much they love it and how awesome it is.
Brian: Phyllis and her team have done so well they have expanded their services and network beyond O.C. Haley, replicating the advocacy and development they’ve done on the boulevard across the city, between groups that historically haven’t had much interaction.
PC: We did realize that a major barrier is that the minority businesses are not connected to sort of the mainstream economy. Everybody does business the way they've always done it, and the African-American business community and the white business community are not connected. So we created a program called Connect Works that proactively tries to connect those groups, to change stereotypes and start to create different networks in the city that didn't exist before. And Chase has been one of our major supporters in that effort, too.
PC: We’ve awarded, through Connect Works, I think it's about $70 million of contracts have been awarded to minority businesses through that program.
Brian: Phyllis’ work is inspiring and really drives home how strategic investment, real estate development, and philanthropy all work together to spark a renaissance on the boulevard. It’s staggering, how people with strong visions have worked to turn this boulevard around. In just over a decade, it has gone from a down and out area to a bubbling, diverse thoroughfare that both old and new residents joyfully call home.
Here’s Greg Rattler, from JPMorgan Chase again, reflecting on just how much O.C. Haley has changed.
GR: Comparing, contrasting modern day, and I'm using that term 'modern' defined as within the last 12 years, Central City and O.C. Haley Boulevard specifically, it is just buzzing with excitement. There is tremendous diversity-- economic, socially, racially, you name it-- but there is this cultural commitment that is kind of unique and part of what the New Orleans story is all about. How do you rebuild a city without losing your soul in the process? So, all of what we love and enjoy that's uniquely cultural about the city of New Orleans and its long history, you can find on O.C. Haley, and so it has it has come alive in a very unique and very powerful way.
Brian: Carol, from Ashé, also reflected on JPMorgan Chase’s work and their commitment to the revival of the boulevard and the people who live there.
CB: It is fabulous to know that JPMC is willing to take on that part of the work lot of times commercial folks want things they can be assured of. Well, people are not things you can be assured of but what you can be assured of is that when you make investment, when you regard and respect people, when you make it possible for them to be comfortable in their life, comfortable meaning that they've got what they need to support life, they're safe, that they have people who love them and regard and respect them, that people do amazing things.
Brian: Amazing hardly begins to define it. Real estate development, commercial redevelopment, cultural and artistic exchange - walking down O.C. Haley Boulevard, it’s hard to imagine that things were ever any other way. Carol, Phyllis, Kathy, Greg - they’re a whole team of Placemakers, whose dedication has brought the boulevard into a whole new era. The hard work they’ve put into changing this place is noticeable, and like so many elements of New Orleans, their spirit is infectious.
I’m Brian Babylon, and this has been a paid episode of Placemakers from JPMorgan Chase. Subscribe to Placemakers wherever you get your podcasts, and head to jpmorganchase.com to learn more about JPMorgan Chase’s corporate responsibility program.
Next time, I head to the Pacific Northwest to check out how a totally different city - think coffee and rain instead of jazz and gumbo - approaches the revitalization of a historic downtown housing project.
This paid episode of Placemakers from JPMorgan Chase was produced by Panoply Custom Studios. Our theme music was written and performed by Robin Hilton, and a very special thanks to Greg Rattler, Carol Bebelle, Phyllis Cassidy, and Kathy Laborde.