Just after Hurricane Katrina, there was the muttering about turning New Orleans East into green space—no doubt a not-so-subtle prelude to gentrification. Despite, New Orleans East’s residents resisted, returned and rebuilt. It has not been easy. The process was slow, especially when compared to the pace at which many other parts of New Orleans rebounded post-Katrina. New Orleans East residents, along with those in the Ninth Ward, were among the many Black homeowners cheated by The Road Home Program, which undervalued rebuilding costs of homes in largely Black neighborhoods by more than 35 percent in some instances. That was yet another scheme designed to dissuade residents from returning. It didn’t work either. And now, mainstream media’s incessant focus on and bandwagon propaganda about crime in the East, as if crime is not impacting the entire city, has seemingly made it more difficult to lure major corporations to the area. But don’t be fooled! New Orleans East matters! It is filled with residents and small business owners that come together to create a vibrant and energetic community. Now with two major redevelopment projects set to have a significant impact on the future of New Orleans East, the need for its residents and business leaders to protect, promote and profit from New Orleans East’s renewal has only intensified. 

By Anitra D. Brown and Troy Carter II
The New Orleans Tribune

Don’t call it a comeback. 

New Orleans East has been and remains one of the most important areas of a city – a sprawling community surrounded by the waters of the Industrial Canal, the Intracoastal Waterway and Lake Pontchartrain. 

Though many of its subdivisions had been original developed as a suburban haven for White New Orleanians, New Orleans East became the place to be for upwardly mobile African-Americans as the city’s Black middle class began to increase in the 1970s and 1980s.

Regardless of perceptions and misconceptions about it, New Orleans East has always mattered.

When it was in its heyday – a bustling and burgeoning community of both working and middle-class African-Americans, it mattered.

When economic disinvestment and urban decay as a prelude to gentrification hit the area in the mid and late 1990s, not unlike what was happening in other areas across the city and country, New Orleans East mattered.

When Hurricane Katrina and rising floodwaters decimated its neighborhoods and businesses in 2005, New Orleans East mattered.

It matters still to the tens of thousands of New Orleanians who returned to it and call it home, choosing the East to rear their families and open their businesses.

And it ought to matter to city leaders and the business community. At its peak – a single shopping mall in New Orleans East, Lake Forest Plaza Mall – is reported to have generated 25 percent of all sales taxes collected in New Orleans, proving that doing business in New Orleans East can be profitable for entrepreneurs and lucrative for the City.

Despite what naysayers and some in the mainstream media would have the rest of the world believe, New Orleans East is not some crime-ridden collection of impoverished neighborhoods. 

Signs attached to posts and poles throughout many of its subdivisions, declaring “We Buy Houses-Cash” are proof that New Orleans East is desirable. Trust that someone wants it because it was and is again positioned to be a sparkling gem in New Orleans’ crown. In fact, here at The New Orleans Tribune, we contend that they go on about crime in New Orleans East specifically to spark an exodus of current homeowners, hoping they will sale their homes at  low prices and abandon the area, so the interlopers can swoop in and devour it. 

Do not be fooled!

The Real Story

Though its post-Katrina recovery lagged behind other areas of the city and while blight and crime, which are problems throughout New Orleans, have not spared the East, it has not been gloom and doom for New Orleans East. 

Between 2010 and 2018, more than $900 million was invested in the community, include the opening of New Orleans East Hospital as well as money to refurbish Joe Brown Park, the New Orleans East Library, the 7th District Police Station, along with playgrounds, community centers and fire stations in the area. 

There have been some economic victories along the way. For instance, in the fall of 2020, the New Orleans East community gathered to celebrate the opening of 15 new or rebranded small businesses inside the Executive Plaza office building on Lake Forest Plaza Boulevard. 

And efforts have also taken hold to remedy blighted sites, such as the abandoned high-rise Holiday Inn hotel at Chef Menteur Highway and I-10, which was remodeled and reopened in 2022 as an apartment complex, offering affordable units for middle-class renters.

Aaron Jordan, owner of Universal Printing and president of the New Orleans East Business Alliance, recently appeared on WWL Radio’s The Newell Normand Show to talk about the economic development in the East. While show host Normand, the former Jefferson Parish sheriff who has all but built his platform on lambasting New Orleans and its leadership, tried nonstop to get Jordan to talk about crime and problems in New Orleans East, Jordan remained focused.

“So we are a new organization,” Jordan said.  “Our mission is more economic development – how to bring more businesses to the East and keep the businesses that we have.”

Again, Normand tries to prod Jordan to talk problems, but the business owner was unflappable.

He continued, “You know, one of the things that people think about the East is a lot of negativity. But the thing is, we have so many jewels out here. If you think about it, we have Faubourg (Brewing Company); Crescent Crown, one of the largest (beer) distributors in the country. NASA – you can’t go to the moon, unless you go through NASA. You have the (Audubon) Nature Center, which sits on 86 acres of land that a lot of people don’t know about and one of the largest wildlife refuges the country, (the 23,000-acre) Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge is in New Orleans East. You have one of the busiest airports, New Orleans Lake Front Airport. It’s the second business airport in the state. All of that is in eastern New Orleans. That is the real story.” 

To be sure, New Orleans East has a story to tell, particularly in the wake of recent news about the nearly $25 million being invested in the redevelopment of Lincoln Beach along with the progress made with plans to redevelop the former Six Flags property.

A Phoenix Rising

First opened as Jazzland in 2000 and renamed Six Flags New Orleans under new ownership in 2003, the site suffered significant damage during Hurricane Katrina and was permanently closed.

In late March, Bayou Phoenix officially unveiled its master plan for the nearly $900 million redevelopment of the former Six Flags in New Orleans East. 

Troy Henry of Henry Consulting is the lead developer of the project, which will include a sports & recreation center, water parks, hotel, arcade, and a movie studio along with retail and dining for an all inclusive experience. An expected completion date some time in 2026 or 2027 depends on when the project actual breaks ground, which will be determined once the master plan is approved by the City.

Henry is excited about the impact Six Flag’s redevelopment will have on the community.

It is projected to create close to 20,000 jobs, with a total labor income of nearly $2 billion and a total economic impact close to $5 billion. 

“I think Bayou Phoenix is going to be catalytic and in some ways, transformative,” Henry says. “I think the future of New Orleans East is very bright, very bright.” 

In fact, Henry has another project in the making for New Orleans East on six acres of land he has purchased at Chef Menteur and Crowder. There, Henry is set to develop what he says will be the largest of its kind in the state–a gas and charging station combo with a car wash, food court, major retail shopping. 

He is in the process of getting necessary permits for that project, he says.

Meanwhile, Bayou Phoenix is aiming to compete with Disney World and Universal Studios, setting New Orleans East up to be as economically successful as Orlando. As of press time, the group was working to submit its plan for approval to the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority so that leases can be executed.

Norm Gill of Pinnacle Indoor Sports will lead the creation of the Sports and Recreation Center. On the outside there will be 30 acres of state of the art, synthetic turf, athletic fields, including professional soccer fields, regulation little league fields, and NCAA softball fields. Professional level lighting will illuminate each field. On the inside there will be eight state of the art NBA level hardwood courts, 16 regulation volleyball courts, and a championship arena court with seating, along with 12,000 square feet of retail space and 15,000 square feet for performance training.

Henry believes these offerings will attract national little league championship games as well Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) travel to New Orleans.

“The sports complex is going to be an easy sale,” says Henry. “Combining all of these trends and putting them in one space is going to be real attractive.”

Neil Walsh of Murphy’s Waves will oversee development of a water park. Murphy’s Waves have worked with companies like Universal Studios, Disney and Atlantis Resorts to develop some of the most prestigious water parks and resorts around the world. The attractions at Bayou Phoenix’s water park will include indoor and outdoor wave pools, indoor and outdoor action rivers, indoor and outdoor play structures, multiple indoor and outdoor water slides, along with several other fun attractions.

David Sangree of Hotel and Leisure Providers has provided a market feasibility study for the hotel, arcade, and water park. He has recommended a 400-room hotel with 15,000 square feet of meeting space, and at least five food and beverage outlets. Also planned: a 40,000 square foot arcade, a 60,000 square foot indoor water park, and an outdoor water park situated across five acres of land.

Charles Parker of The Retail Coach is the project director for retail and dining. His goal is to create mixed-use retail and dining spaces that will attract visitors as well as locals, looking for a place to unwind and spend time outside of home and work. 

Bayou Phoenix developers say specifics on retail and dining options will be determined with community input. 

Elvin Ross, who has scored numerous projects at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, is an Emmy Award winning composer, who has taken the lead in the development of the film studio that will be built as a part of Bayou Phoenix. His experience in the film and television production industry comes from his having been creator and executive producer of Gospel Dreams, which appeared on both BET and the Gospel Music Channel for six seasons. Ross’ production company, E Ross Studios, will be in New Orleans as a hub for creative and economic expansion.

Back to the Beach

On March 27, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration announced that $24.6 million had been allocated to redevelop Lincoln Beach, which was the designated spot for Black New Orleanians to enjoy the water along Lake Pontchartrain’s shore during segregation.

In recent years, local residents began to express interest in revitalizing the site; and City leaders ordered feasibility studies and environmental assessments to determine the viability of reopening it. The Cantrell Administration started funding redevelopment efforts in 2020 and published a site assessment in Spring 2021. The Lincoln Beach Site Assessment Report confirmed that the land can be safely redeveloped.

The $24.6 million in funding is also welcomed news for New Orleanians involved in the community-led efforts to see the beach reopened.

“Our group has been advocating for Lincoln Beach to be cleaned up and redeveloped so our community can once again enjoy this beautiful site,” said Tricia “Blyss” Wallace. Wallace represents New Orleans for Lincoln Beach. “This funding is welcome news, especially for residents of New Orleans East. We can now feel confident that things are moving in the right direction, and we thank the administration for prioritizing this project.”

Councilman Oliver Thomas, whose district includes Lincoln Beach is excited to see the highly-anticipated project move forward.

 “Redevelopment of Lincoln Beach is one of the most exciting projects in the City that has labored for far too long,” said Thomas. “I’m glad that within my first year as Councilman of District E we could work with the Administration to get the funding needed for this historical site.” 

Michael “Sage” Pellet, whose efforts to clean and restore Lincoln Beach over the last several years is thrilled to see the project move forward, especially when he considers its cultural implications.

“This restores a space dedicated to Black New Orleanians in the past who wanted freedom, justice and equality,” says Sage. “We have always had a problem around this country finding safe places for Black people to recreate, especially around water.”

As important as the cultural and historical aspects of Lincoln Beach’s redevelopment are, Sage cautions that it is critical for the Black community in New Orleans to also figure prominently in the economic impact of Lincoln Beach’s rebirth.

“We know this project will generate millions in contracts and millions in revenue,” says Sage. “This project is owned by the city of New Orleans, so the question is how can the City ensure that community members and businesses that are a part of our community are a part of this development. The Mayor must create a process that fosters equity and inclusion.”

He is also urging local businesses to think about how they can take part in this project and ready themselves, seeking support and resources from local organizations like the New Orleans East Business Alliance and registering with the City as certified disadvantaged business enterprises or DBEs is a good starting point, he says.

“It’s all about getting your business in line and developing businesses that will be ready when the public bid process starts,” he says, adding that the community must play an important role as well in demanding accountability and not allowing any shortcuts or excuses when it comes to ensuring economic equity in the project. 

“They can always find a way to take from Black people, but somehow it’s always confusing when it comes time to give back to Black people. We can’t let that happen.”

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