Since 1998, non-profit developer Felicity Redevelopment, Inc. has worked to stabilize lower Central City in an effort to put “the neighbor back in neighborhood.”
Incorporated on June 25, 1998, Felicity Redevelopment, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging reinvestment in the lower section of the Central City National Register Historic District, specifically the area bounded by St. Charles Avenue, Calliope Street, Simon Bolivar Avenue, and Jackson Avenue that sits just north of the Lower Garden District.¹ The neighborhood, which began development as a working-class community in the 1830s with the construction of the New Basin Canal, is characterized by a variety of residential building types, from shotguns to double-gallery townhouses, and concentrations of commercial buildings, particularly along the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (formerly Dryades Street) commercial corridor.² In the 1960s, as businesses and residents decamped for the suburbs and the Pontchartrain Expressway was constructed along Calliope Street, the neighborhood slipped into decline, and by the turn of the twenty-first century it was overrun with blight and vacant lots.³ In the late 1990s, a debate raged over a proposed suburban-sized Albertson’s grocery store on Carondelet Street that called for the clearing of four blocks of historic buildings.⁴ The blocks were cleared, but the grocery store was never built.⁵ These threats to the already beleaguered neighborhood inspired a group of concerned citizens to form Felicity Redevelopment, Inc. to preserve what remained.⁶ Activist Louise Martin, one of the founding leaders, serves as Felicity’s president.⁷
By utilizing a revolving fund, which was originally financed in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Felicity has purchased, stabilized, and resold over fifty commercial and residential properties and invested over five million dollars in the neighborhood.⁸ In recent years, the group has also branched out into purchasing vacant lots for new construction in an effort to restore the neighborhood’s historically dense character.⁹
1. Louisiana Secretary of State, “Felicity Redevelopment, Inc.” ; Felicity Redevelopment, Inc. “About”; and Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, “Central City Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places, July 9, 1982. According to Executive Director Elizabeth Burger, Felicity extended its northern boundary to Simon Bolivar Avenue in April 2015.
2. Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, “Central City Historic District.”
3. “New Orleans’ desegregation was rooted in the 1960 Dryades St. boycott,” louisianaweekly.com, August 4, 2014; and Richard and Marina Campanella, New Orleans Then and Now (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1999), 333.
4. Coleman Warner, “Neighbors split on Albertson’s size – some buy a big store; others say scale down,” The Times-Picayune, July 28, 1999; Coleman Warner and Michael J. Smith, “Store forced to stop in its tracks – preservationists get aid from A&P,” The Times-Picayune, July 1, 1998; and Mary Fitzpatrick, “‘Putting neighbor back in neighborhood,’” Preservation in Print 31 no. 4 (May 2004): 24.
5. Fitzpatrick, “‘Putting neighbor back in neighborhood,’” 24.
7. Felicity Redevelopment, Inc., “Louise Martin, President.”
8. Fitzpatrick, “‘Putting neighbor back in neighborhood,’” 25; and Felicity Redevelopment, Inc., “About.”
9. Elizabeth Burger, Executive Director, Felicity Redevelopment, Inc., in conversation with the author, May 27, 2015.