The ReFresh Project

ReFresh Project

Founded in 2008, Broad Community Connections (BCC) is working to revitalize Broad Street in New Orleans, and address the challenges facing the commercial corridor dealing not only with the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, but decades of marginalization and disinvestment. The communities along Broad Street - including Tremé, Mid-City, Lower Mid-City, Faubourg St. John, Esplanade Ridge, and the 7th Ward -  underpin all of BCC’s work as the organization works to bring these neighborhoods together and promote their economic, residential, and cultural development. 

Map_BroadStreetDespite facing several challenges, the neighborhoods along Broad Street are known as some of the most historic, vibrant, and culturally resonant communities in the city. Tremé is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans and is the birthplace of Jazz; Mid-City and Lower Mid-City are organically mixed-use and mixed-income communities bearing witness to a resurgence since Katrina; and Faubourg St., Esplanade Ridge, and the 7th Ward are neighborhoods that loom large in the Creole history of the city.   Over $4 billion has been invested in these communities since Katrina, primarily in the redevelopment of the Lafitte and Iberville public housing developments, the $2.2 billion rebuilding of the VA and Charity hospitals, and the construction of new infrastructure like the Lafitte Greenway.  While this promises to bring a renaissance in certain parts of the greater Mid-City area, there are still significant gaps in the ability of the Broad Street commercial district to meet the daily needs of its residents and business and property owners. 

In order to address these needs, BCC uses the Four-Point Approach as the basis for all of its work, but also undertakes initiatives that go outside of the typical Main Street toolkit. Some of the BCC’s more successful projects include The Iconic Signage Project, an ongoing partnership with the Arts Council of New Orleans to pair local artists and businesses with business owners to create new neon signs reminiscent of the corridor’s heyday as a primary route into New Orleans, and several zoning and beautification projects which have helped to revitalize the corridor, such as the 100 Trees for Broad and Bayou Road landscaping campaign.

The ReFresh Project   

schwegmanns 2009One of the most complex and innovative projects began a few years back when Broad Community Connections decided to redevelop Broad Street’s largest vacant building, a former Schwegmann Brothers Giant Supermarket, as a grocery store—fresh food access is one of the community’s most pressing needs.  The site, located at the intersection of Broad and Bienville Street, had only served two uses since the Civil War, when it was developed as the House of the Good Shepherd, a home for young women. In the 1950s, the site was acquired by Schwegmann’s, which constructed a mid-century modern building and operated it as a large-format supermarket until the early 2000s. After the closing of Schwegmann’s, the building was purchased by Robert’s grocery store, which operated it until the eve of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The building sat blighted and vacant until December 2010, when Broad Community Connections received a grant from the Foundation for Louisiana to place the property under contract.  BCC then worked with community stakeholders and partners to develop a vision for what became known as the ReFresh Project, a food access hub. The official mission of the ReFresh Project is to improve the health of the surrounding communities through fresh food access and education, and to create a catalytic economic development project to anchor small businesses in the Broad Street commercial corridor.  BCC and its partners developed a model to bring not only a high quality fresh food retailer to the Broad Street community, but also to co-locate culinary and nutrition education, health and wellness classes, social services, and youth and workforce development programs under the same roof. 

BCC partnered with L+M Development Partners, a mission-driven development company based in New York and with a number of other organizations in order to achieve the ReFresh Project vision.  BCC brought on the project’s first two tenants—Liberty’s Kitchen, a culinary-based workforce and life skills youth training program, and The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, a teaching kitchen for medical students that provides free cooking and healthy eating classes to the community—over the summer of 2011.  Soon after, BCC began conversations with Whole Foods Market, who enthusiastically became a core partner for the project in December 2011, NOLA Coalition with a deep interest in bringing the highest quality fresh and healthy foods to underserved communities.  As BCC and L+M Development Partners continued to develop the New Market Tax Credit-financed project throughout 2012 and early 2013, additional partners committed to the project, including FirstLine Schools, which operates the local Edible School Yard affiliate, the Crescent City Community Land Trust, and Boys Town center for children and families.

With the ReFresh Project’s mix of health-, food access-, and workforce development-focused tenants, BCC and its partners looked to maximize the potential for collaboration among the group and to connect with like-minded community partners.  Starting more than a year before the project’s construction, BCC worked to develop the ReFresh NOLA Coalition, a group that has worked to develop collaborative, collective impact programming for the ReFresh Project, as well as serve as a gathering space for ReFresh Project tenants and community partners.  The coalition has served to connect the project with community partners including community gardening organizations that will operate an on-site teaching farm, as well as other mission driven organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank, the Tulane Prevention Research Center, Edible Schoolyard NOLA, the Ruth U. Fertel/Tulane Community Health Center, Grow Dat Youth Farm, Friends of Lafitte Corridor, and others.  The group continues to grow and has developed committees to address project’s goals of community health and revitalization.

The ReFresh Project opened with Whole Foods Market’s grand opening in February 2014, and other partners are scheduled to open throughout the spring and summer. The ReFresh Community Farm, the project’s on-site teaching farm, is in the process of fundraising and is also expected to open in the coming months, rounding out a project that hopes to continue to revitalize the people and businesses on Broad Street.

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Learn more about the ReFresh Project at www.broadcommunityconnections.org.

Check out the following articles for more information and photos:
Old Schwegmann Store on Broad Street Could Become Fresh Food Hub  Rebecca Mowbray | The Times-Picayune | August 12, 2012.
Whole Foods Market Work Begins on North Broad Street Richard A. Webster | The Times-Picayune | May 9, 2013.
Whole Foods Market Opens in Mid-City with Hopes of Broad Street Revitalization Katherine Sayre | The Times-Picayune | February 4, 2014.