Prior to Katrina, New Orleans East was a bustling community of small businesses amidst national chains and plush upscale neighborhoods coupled with solid middle class homes and apartment complexes and a major mall. Having its' own airport, and bursting with a population of around 70,000 the East was comparable in size to Louisiana's sixth largest city, Lake Charles. The income demographics were across the spectrum - from the richest of the rich to the lowest income survivors - offering a wide array of commercial opportunities. With the only available large land masses available for development, the East had added a major theme park that had plans for expansion. Doctors and lawyers and architects and computer consultants plied their trades in this diverse part of New Orleans. And Katrina came and washed all of that away.
New Orleans' ability to regain a solid economy which generates jobs and business opportunities rests predominantly in New Orleans East. New Orleans East is the only area of Orleans Parish that has any large land masses available for development. The New Orleans Regional Business Park alone boasts over 7000 acres of commercial real estate that is directly connected to interstate, rail and water transportation. Additionally, an available housing stock of previously flooded homes can be restored much quicker than new construction. Idle lots that once housed major national companies can be redeveloped to exacting specifications. Interstate 10 and 510 cut through the area and provide quick and direct access to the Central Business District and surrounding parishes. Most importantly the vocal, active and engaged citizenry is sparking a renaissance that will help catapult the east to new heights.
However the East's Katrina population losses could result in corresponding losses in elected representation that could further stall the recovery of this great section of town. The proposed loss of the Senate District 2 seat currently held by State Senator Cynthia Willard Lewis, and the potential combining of House seats affecting the lower ninth ward and the east could mean a shift in the allocation of state resources that the area needs. All other political districts are vying for dollars amidst a shrinking state budget and losing a Senator and or State Representative severely lessens the chances that funds will be allocated to the area. Additionally, historically and culturally significant state assets like SUNO, which the delegation was able to save this session, will again be on the chopping block and even more vulnerable.
Yet the area is poised for a great comeback. The Army Corps of Engineers has poured nearly a billion dollars into storm surge and barrier protection for the East. And by summer's end the Corps will have completed the "100 year" storm protection plan, and the East will be one of the metro area's best protected neighborhoods. The key will be the opening of the full service hospital on Read Road. As Mayor Landrieu wrestles for control of the board that will oversee the hospital, the last obstacle to the recovery of the East is being hurdled. The $18 million restoration of Joe Brown Park and the huge new regional library will combine with the hospital opening with jumpstart economic investment and growth in the area. Doctors, nurses, and patients children in parks require multiple services that business people will provide. Recently Senator Willard-Lewis pushed through a bill which intensifies the penalties for littering - a decades old problem in the area. Her tough new legislation will help protect the vitality of the neighborhoods and discourage citizens from other parts of the metro area to illegally dump truckloads of debris and waste in the East. With strong political leaders who will bring home the bacon, working harmoniously with the engaged citizenry, the East will become the vibrant and prosperous neighborhood that the infrastructure dictates it should be.
Jeff Thomas is publisher of sync504 newsletter; he may be reached via email at email@example.com.
Photos by Vincent Sylvain, New Orleans Agenda.
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