I’ve got to give a tip of the hat to my fellow columnist Jean-Paul Villere for his recent piece about real estate and which neighborhoods around the city are next in line for gentrification.
Restaurants and other food operations usually follow but can sometimes lead the redevelopment of neighborhoods. Indeed, New Orleans East and some other areas are still sadly lacking in full-service grocery operations. But this summer’s planned reopening of the Circle Food Store will be a beacon in Treme, and the original Juan’s Flying Burrito on Magazine was one of the landmarks in the comeback of the Lower Garden District.
The Lakeview area, while boasting the Robert Fresh Market near the lakefront, has been lacking grocery operations since Katrina. The area now hosts a series of very good restaurants, but competitive grocery shopping means a little longer drive. Things are quickly improving along Carrollton, where a new Winn-Dixie is being built across from Rouses and the Costco is planned for the old strip center area the other side of I-10.
(Aside – I’ll be interested to see how Costco’s opening affects pay scales at Robert’s, BreauxMart, Rouses and other retail food operations. Costco is known for paying a higher wage and treating its employees well, but I’m wondering if it will be well enough to force the others to up their game or risk losing more qualified employees.)
I’d agree with Villere that Central City is on the cusp of significant redevelopment, at least in certain sections. Matter of fact, it is already underway. Several of our friends have moved into already renovated apartments or have started urban-steading (is that a word?) by purchasing run-down houses and quickly turning them into pleasant, conveniently located domestic islands. Leaving the social and societal aspects out of this discussion, the rebuilding of public housing in the area has been aesthetically well done.
I try to take the time every few weeks to drive down Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and, every time, my restauranteur’s eye sees a goldmine. Café Reconcile has already been redone, the Food and Beverage Museum is coming along and there is simply so much open and potentially available space along a wide and reasonably well-maintained boulevard. The Zeitgeist operation has proven itself sustainable for evening events and I can’t help but believe the street needs but just a few more “open” signs at night to spark a change into the next Magazine or Freret.
Of course, such changes take time. Anyone who chooses to embark on such a project would have to include a huge amount of patience in their portfolio. And, as mentioned in a previous column, some locations might present a combination of challenges that would prevent successful operations over the long haul. But, if I had the money, O.C Haley would be the first place I’d look if I was in the market to open a new shop. Despite the rebuilding costs, I think the area is simply too ripe for overall success to ignore.
I realize existing Central City crime remains an issue, as evidenced by a multi-victim birthday party drive-by about a year ago. But, as we see too consistently, no New Orleans neighborhood is immune. An increase in lights, foot traffic and general activity is the best crime deterrent.
The change is coming. The only question is who is going to be a part of it.
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes, and is now banquet and special event chef at the Warehouse Grille. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.