Let the Healing Begin
Written by Lisa M. Daliet
Wednesday, 17 June 2009 19:18
The corridor at St. Claude and St. Roch avenues, the center of a once viable neighborhood rich in history, is dilapidated; most of the buildings, inhabited or not, are an eyesore for residents and passersby, stark reminders of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. The old St. Roch Market sits on one corner, vacant and boarded up. Across the street sits a 55,000-square-foot, four-storey building with an outdated art deco façade hiding the historic building beneath, once home to Universal Furniture store, now the New Orleans Healing Center—a beacon of hope for the blighted neighborhood. City, state and federal agencies are joining forces with concerned citizens in a mission to revitalize the St. Claude and St. Roch neighborhoods and at the core of the Revitalization Project are these two buildings.
The Healing Center—a proposed multi-disciplinary, sustainable gathering place promoting physical, nutritional, emotional, intellectual, environmental and spiritual well-being—is the brainchild of artist, writer and Vodou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman and civic leader and developer Pres Kabacoff, the visionaries and motivators behind the Revitalization Project. “I’ve always wanted to do a healing center and combine yoga, spiritual healing and organic healthy foods,” says Glassman. A salon of academics, engineers, artists and architects organized by Glassman right after the hurricane to address rebuilding, have also been instrumental in the projects development. “I’m so thrilled New Orleanians are willing to step up and find the leadership in themselves,” she says.
On Saturday, June 13, the Healing Center (which provides a temporary home to the district’s police department) hosted an open house offering residents, community members and leaders a chance to meet the people and entities involved, learn about the center’s plans, and about the overall revitalization proposal. The event included live entertainment, a complimentary brunch by restaurateur Fatma Aydin, owner of the center’s organic café, and a sampling of healing arts programs like yoga, chanting, Kirtan and massage therapy. Glassman says the impressive turnout was unexpected. “People started pouring in from the very neighborhood that everybody said we couldn’t reach. I watched people coming in droves and I just started to cry.” A diverse group piled into the building: old and young, black and white, artists, professionals, and a number of city and state dignitaries, some of whom participated in a presentation led by Kabacoff, and who spoke in support of the Revitalization Project.
“We can’t just be an uptown city, we’ve got to be a downtown city,” said Tulane University Political Science of Practice Professor James Carville who took the podium first. “This is a very critical step in our recovery and in establishing the kind of city we all want for our children”
State Senator J.P. Morrell spoke passionately. “When you talk about the redevelopment of the city, it’s important to always note that every neighborhood is interconnected. And when you talk about projects that have the potential to revitalize an area, it doesn’t just revitalize one area, but spreads like a healing wave across the entire part of the city.” Other guest speakers and supporters of the project included Murray Nelson from the office of US Representative Anh “Joseph” Cao, Mayor Nagin’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Cynthia Sylvain Lear, and City Councilmember James Carter, who addressed the crowd with his young son at his side.
Along with healing arts programs and an organic restaurant to include a juice bar, coffee bar and internet café, the community center will offer an interfaith spiritual program; a food co-op with an anticipated 1000 members handling all operations for selling healthy, low-cost food; a rooftop garden of organic produce; women and child care services; sustainable and intellectual workshops and classes; a 4200-square-foot entertainment hall and art gallery for hosting live music, theatre, poetry slams and exhibits; and a crafts bazaar and boutique space. At the open house, display tables lined the entry hall providing information to visitors on each of the center’s programs.
The St. Claude/St. Roch revitalization model is following the principals of New Urbanism, combining sustainability, walkability and electric transportation to create a viable neighborhood. The Regent Group and its subsidiary nolaSOLAR, along with Tampa-based green building company Oceansafe, will lead the environmental and renovation efforts. Says nolaSOLAR building scientist Dr. Norman M. Witriol, “We’re looking to work here with the Healing Center to propagate solar energy efficiency and build energy efficient homes in the area. We’re partnering with Oceansafe to build Net Zero homes that take on average no electric power, but keep homes comfortable, healthy, durable, termite-free, and able to withstand 250-mile-an-hour winds.”
The Faubourg St. Roch Project, another collaborative of neighborhood activists, is advocating to bring back the historic St. Roch Seafood Market, and work has already begun to create an outdoor art walk along the 6-block stretch of neutral ground directly behind the market. “[We need] the Healing Center and the St. Roch Market to work with the regional planning commission to bump out the sidewalks,” Kabacoff said at the start of the presentation. “So that the activities in these two buildings flow out into the street. Smart growth is to prepare walkable, neighborhood activities.”
Kabacoff says that the Revitalization Project is a multi-layered project, intending to unite surrounding neighborhoods, with the potential to have a huge economic impact on the city. Addressing an audience, which included Rosalind Peychaud, Cesar Burgos from the Regional Transit Authority and former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, Kabacoff stressed the tenets of New Urbanism, saying that all these things must occur in order for a “downtown renaissance” to be successful, and that a streetcar is a third and major component. “Another urban smart growth idea is to connect [the neighborhood] and we can do that by bringing back the Desire streetcar.”
With the anticipated federal stimulus package, the RTA is proposing to add a number of streetcar alignments throughout the city. Kabacoff went on to commend the RTA for including in their proposal to congress a request for funding to implement an inter-model transit program similar to Paris’ Bicycle Sharing Program where city-owned bicycles are available to riders at various station stops.
Jane Campbell, Chief of Staff for US Senator Mary Landrieu, spoke on behalf of the senator. “Senator Landrieu voted for the stimulus package and as a result we are able to have this discussion about the streetcar named Desire. I can tell you that she will work very hard to make sure that transportation money comes to the people of Louisiana. Senator Landrieu will use every bit of creative energy to try and support you and the variety of things it will take to make this project work.”
And when can citizens expect the Healing Center to be completely up and running?
“Renovations can start as soon as the money’s in place,” says Glassman. “We’ve heard that one portion of the money will come through this August; another portion in January 2010; so, probably eight months after that. But we intend to be active. We’ve already started community yoga classes [with Wild Lotus Yoga]; we’ve started healing works; we’re gong to do another big event at Halloween. The way we’re looking it, we start with these events and eventually we’re doing it every day.”
Funding for the Healing Center is as yet unrealized, but Glassman is optimistic. “We’ve received Mary Landrieu’s endorsement and Larry Rainwater with the Louisiana Recovery Authority says that if the federal government [grants us money] the LRA will give us a million. We’re applying for a grant that the city assures us we’re perfect for, and that’s another million. That together with the federal 26 percent Historic Tax Credit [that the center will qualify for once the art deco façade is stripped from the historic building] gets us over the top. We’re applying for all kinds of grants, looking for people that want to be angels. But our intention is to truly be sustainable, all of our programs have a business plan; we intend to stand on our own two feet.”
Photos by Lisa Daliet
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