New Hope Baptist Church received final approval from the New Orleans City Council last week to build its new, 18,000-square-foot community center along Felicity Street in Central City.
The new two-story building will be situated on several lots along Felicity Street across the Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way from the church building, and also includes a parking lot across Felicity from the church. It will include a gym, classrooms, offices, performance spaces and offer health programs, day care, adult education, food service and other services, supporters have said.
District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and other councilmembers praised the church congregation for their vision and their patience with the project.
“This development has the potential to have a profound positive impact to this area of Central City,” Cantrell said. “I am also excited that this will be in the area creating a real nexus with the Keller center coming online.”
Brother Al Mims, an anti-violence advocate in Central City, told the City Council he walked from his home on Thursday to support the project, because the services it provides will help reduce crime.
“New Hope needed more resources to get to battle some of the things that are going on.” Mims said. “We needed this.”
The center has drawn one ardent opponent, nearby neighbor Michael Burnside. He said that his neighborhood is “very dangerous,” and he regrets that the construction of the community center will involve the demolition of a home across the street that housed a friendly and helpful neighbor, leaving the neighborhood just a little bit darker after nightfall.
“I didn’t want to stop the community center. I wanted to modify it,” Burnside said. “It’s unfortunate in modern America that churches tend to be locked up at night. I really wish there was a person there instead of a security camera.”
Cantrell told him that his concerns were heard and understood, and that she would encourage the church to continue its work of filling in vacant lots in the neighborhood with new houses.
“You have not failed,” Cantrell said. “You have stood there proud and strong, and your voice has made its way to the public record.”
New Hope’s pastor, the Rev. Jamaal Weathersby, said he had heard Burnside’s reservations and promised to help allay his concerns. The center will provide an immediate impact, however, Weathersby said — on Wednesday, the church fed 119 hungry people, but had to do so in four shifts because its current cafeteria only seats 30 people.
In the Hope Center, there will be seating for 200 people, greatly increasing the number of people who can be reached.
“I believe this is going to be a great project,” Weathersby said. “I believe that it will be 99 percent positive feedback because of all that we think we will be able to do once we are able to expand our footprint.”