New Orleans’ urban Main Street programs have been making big headlines in recent months. In August, St. Claude Main Street was awarded a $275,000 grant to support the corridor’s art district and further community engagement. Broad Community Connections has garnered positive press for their redevelopment of an abandoned former Schweggman’s grocery on Broad Street. And O.C. Haley Boulevard’s reinvigoration, including the restoration of the former Dryades Market into the new location of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, has captured widespread attention.

New Orleans has five urban Main Street programs, located on some of the city’s most historically vital and neglected – commercial corridors: Broad Street, North Rampart Street, O.C. Haley Boulevard, Old Algiers and St. Claude Avenue. The impact these programs have had since they were created after Hurricane Katrina has been impressive — tens of millions of dollars in traceable investment. But in addition to the challenge of reinvigorating corridors with myriad complications, including decades of disinvestment, these Main Street programs’ directors and boards of directors are having to also figure out how to stay afloat financially.

State funding has sunset for four of the five of New Orleans’ Main Street programs. Two can no longer afford a full-time director, meaning they rely solely on the volunteer efforts of their board, and two more were only recently able to hire a director (after a year without one) because of new grant funding. Some programs have an office; others don’t. Turnover in leadership in most of the programs has been high. And their work remains vital, especially for small business owners trying to survive in neighborhoods where success isn’t guaranteed and for the residents who rely on those commercial amenities. “A lot of economic programs at the state level court big developments and corporations, luring them to the state, but Main Street works with small, local businesses and helps them to be successful,” said Ray Scriber, director of Louisiana Main Street (located within the state’s Division of Historic Preservation under the leadership of Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne). “It’s big as an economic driver: Downtown and neighborhood commercial districts are the hearts of a community, and communities that exhibit pride in their sense of place with successful, vibrant downtowns become vibrant tourist destinations” — as well as neighbor- hoods with a higher quality of living for residents. “People don’t visit New Orleans for strip malls and big box stores.”

Nor do they move here for that sort of environment. But New Orleans’ urban Main Streets have a hard road to travel. There is no renewal in sight for state funding, and no guarantees for other grants in the future. “We don’t lack for ideas, or human capacity, but we need the dollars,” said Valerie Robinson, board president of the Old Algiers Main Street Corporation. Old Algiers has been without a director for over a year. “Having to spend so much time writing grants definitely makes it difficult to do programming, which you have to have to get grants — it’s a chicken and egg type thing,” said Jeff Schwartz, director of Broad Community Connections. “But, it’s not anything that any small nonprofit isn’t dealing with.”

The five programs’ boards and directors will continue to apply for outside funding to stay alive — and hopefully continue to make headlines — in spite of the realities attached to uncertain economic futures.

O.C. Haley Boulevard's 2011 Make A Joyful Noise Festival

O.C. Haley's 2011 Make A Joyful Noise Festival

Hugo Montero

Casa Borrega

Casa Borrega

A scene from the 2011 Broad Community Connections festival.

Children play at the 2011 O.C. Haley Make a Joyful Noise Festival.

The city’s urban main street program was launched as a response to Hurricane Katrina. “We had been interested in having a Main Street program in the city for a period of time but it just never worked out. After the storm, though, we received some funding to initiate efforts, and that became part of our agency’s response to the recovery,” Scriber said.

“In some cities, the city government actually coordinates the programming — Boston, Baltimore, Orlando and Washington, D.C. for example. In other places, urban Main Streets fall under the umbrella of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO),” he explained. “The city of New Orleans could not take on any more tasks, so that’s why we set it up as part of the state office.”

Nationally, the urban Main Street regarded as the enduring prototype is Boston Main Streets, an entity housed within Boston’s city government that operates 21 Main Street programs throughout the city’s neighborhoods. The program has thrived since its conception in 1983 in the struggling, low-income neighborhood of Roslindale. “By its third year, the volunteer-driven organization saw amazing results:

73 facade changes, 43 commercial building renovations, 29 business gains and 132 net new jobs, totaling an investment of more than $5 million,” according to Boston Main Streets’ website.

New Orleans’ numbers are even more impressive. In the six years since their creation, New Orleans’ urban Main Streets have helped foster the creation of 113 new business and 615 new jobs, according to state figures. Their work has furthered or directly caused $39 million in reinvestment for the city, with almost $13 million in rehabilitations and new construction and $26 million in public improvements.

And their impact is more than financial. The city’s Main Street programs have been successfully working to unite all parties, including those who might not typically have a say, such as residents, in their corridors’ continued development. North Rampart Main Street board members, for example, have been work- ing with the city and the Regional Transit Authority with the hopes of widening the avenue’s neutral ground to accommodate the incoming streetcar line. Business owners and residents hope that the street- car’s installation could spur a reconfiguration of the bumpy, dangerous four-lane street to a two-lane corridor with room for bicyclists. “We want to promote smart growth principals and make a community that is more walkable,” said North Rampart Main Street co-president Susan Klein. “When it comes to the streetcar, we would like to have mitigation by design as opposed to having everything enforced.”

New Orleans’ programs were given core funding from the state for five years: “We gave them grant money to pay for a manager’s salary, office space, a computer, telephones, those basic needs,” Scriber said. The amount steps down periodically during the five years so that the programs, theoretically, can figure out how to be self-sufficient by the time state funding ends. At this point, state funding has run out for four of the five New Orleans Main Streets, and because funds from the state legislature to the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation have been slashed in recent years, there’s no way to ensure Main Streets’ futures in any part of the state (there are currently 34 Main Street communities across Louisiana). According to Scriber, no new Main Street accepted into the state’s program will receive core funding. They will receive technical assistance from the state and will be able to use the official ‘Main Street’ title in promoting their town’s historic commercial arteries — and they will have access to Main Street grants from Scriber’s office when they’re available. O.C. Haley and North Rampart’s Main Streets, for example, were each awarded $12,500 matching Redevelopment Incentive Grants from the state in October, but such funding is periodic, and no longer guaranteed.

While New Orleans’ Main Streets are expected to be self-reliant after five years, it’s questionable whether this goal is realistic. In Boston, home of the great urban Main Street success story, Mayor Thomas Menino is so passionate about his city’s Main Streets that he typically attends all business grand openings that occur within the city’s 21 designated corridors, according to Karl Seidman, author, professor and director of the Housing, Community and Economic Development Program Group at MIT. “In New Orleans, the city has supported projects but hasn’t been a real partner,” he said.

“In Boston, the original hope was that these pro- grams would graduate from city support, but it never happened,” Seidman said. “The first programs started [under City Hall’s purview] in 1994, so they have received core operating support from the city for 18 years now. They haven’t been able to be financially successful [without the support]; I’m not sure that an urban Main Street anywhere has.”

The quality of a Main Street manager is very important because it's a one person staff. If they're not effective or don't appreciate the scope of what they're doing, or if there's a lot of turnover, it's hard to succeed. Karl Seidman

Seidman, an expert on economic and urban development and author of many articles including a 2004 report for the Fannie Mae Foundation titled, “Revitalizing Commerce for American Cities: A Practitioner’s Guide to Urban Main Street Programs,” which explains the benefits and lists best practices for urban Main Streets, has himself been a boon for the New Orleans’ Main Street program. “A lot of people witnessed the impact of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina and were quite concerned about future of city. There was discussion amongst students and faculty at MIT about what we could do as individuals and as a department,” he said. Seidman for years had been teaching classes that would assign students a project with real clients. “I made a decision that my students could have more impact if situated in New Orleans rather than Boston,” where his students had traditionally worked with Main Street programs, “because Boston is resource rich.”

He began bringing classes to New Orleans to work on street scape improvement and Main Street development in 2006, and completed projects on St. Claude and Broad Street; often, students would stay involved with the contacts they made in New Orleans long after their coursework had ended. “Jeff Schwartz was a student of mine and he stayed involved with the group working to create Broad Community Connections,” Seidman said. “We helped them put in 501c3 and Main Street applications” after the class had finished — Schwartz’s involvement later led to his being named Broad Community Connection’s director. Other students and Seidman also did follow-up projects on St. Claude with the Healing Center and addressing fresh food access.

Seidman later led O.C. Haley Main Street’s creation of a strategic plan. “He’s a real friend to us,” Scriber said.

New Orleans’ Main Streets have been successful and impressive in two distinct ways, Seidman says. “They all recognize the city’s strength in cultural aspects, so they all have orientation on cultural activities and festivals — creative economy activities, which makes a lot of sense for New Orleans. These are things that local residents will appreciate, but that visitors can too.” The directors’ and board members’ foresight in engaging proximate community organizations in their work has also been a strength of the programs, Seidman said. “They’ve all looked at their work as having to involve partnerships with a lot of other groups. O.C. Haley, for example, has been working with Cafe Reconcile and the Ashe Cultural Center, among others — they realize they can’t do it all themselves and that they have to get everyone on the same page, to have a shared set of goals and vision for what they’re trying to create. That’s the challenge of these urban Main Streets. They have to be the bandleader, getting all the groups’ activities to reinforce each other, to get everyone to harmonize and work more collaboratively.”

The five Main Streets harmonize with one another, as well, and that too is impressive, Seidman said. “In Boston, the city convenes Main Street directors every month for updates and collaboration, but that certainly doesn’t happen here. Still, the directors in New Orleans participate in informal networking pretty regularly to learn from each other and support each other.”

Scriber agrees. “They have all done a good job recruiting new businesses and filling vacant spaces in their corridors and working to foster the right mix of businesses,” he said. “They’re all very different and they have done good jobs recognizing what direction they want to go with each of their corridors.”

Broad CommunIty ConnectIons

Broad Community Connections was founded as a nonprofit in 2008 “to revitalize Broad Street from Tulane Avenue to Bayou Road as a vibrant commercial corridor,” Director Jeff Schwartz said. After it became an accredited Louisiana Main Street in 2009, Schwartz spent the next two years providing technical assistance for businesses, helping with planning, zoning and economic development issues and implementing “marketing on a shoe string.” A small grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities helped him launch a signage project that funded ’50s-inspired neon signs for four businesses on Broad (a nod to the street’s famous Crescent City Steakhouse, which has an iconic neon sign).

Part of what makes Broad Street special, Schwartz says, is that it is surrounded by unique and diverse neighborhoods that all utilize the corridor. But that doesn’t necessarily mean tourists are coming with money to spend. “Broad is a very practical street, but part of how Main Street operates is in changing how an area is perceived,” Schwartz said. He has hosted a number of events to enliven Broad Street in the past three years, including the NOLA Drive-In, a makeshift drive-in movie theater hosted on top of the old Schwegmann’s building at Broad and Bienville in partnership with the New Orleans Film Society, the Broad Flea market and the Broad Street Brewhaha, the organization’s Main to Main event.

He also hopes to engage the community with local businesses and the city in reconfiguring the street itself, “which is like a six-lane divided highway.” He wants Broad Street be put on a “road diet,” or remapped to reduce its six lanes to four with bike lanes.

BCC still receives state Main Street funding, but over half its budget comes from private foundations such as the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Foundation for Louisiana. The organization’s big news of late is the continued development of the Re- Fresh Project, which “aims to create a fresh food hub at the former Schwegmann’s location at Broad and Bienville.” The nonprofit purchased the building in December 2010 and hopes to find a full-scale grocer as a tenant for the building. “Our team envisions transforming the site into a retail anchor on Broad Street and a model of economic development along the corridor. Plans for the building include a grocery store, a culinary and life-skills training program for at-risk youth, a teaching kitchen and other health and wellness-related businesses and programs. We would also like to cultivate a community garden and create space for community gatherings on site.”

North Rampart Main Street, Inc.

“We say that we bridge the Treme and the French Quarter” to promote both, said North Rampart Main Street co-President Susan Klein. The organization was born after Hurricane Katrina, but its board members, who comprise a strong group of business and resident volunteers, have been “engaged in the community for years.”

The Main Street program has been operating without a manager for the past year. “Our former director transitioned to our board, so we had good continuity, but now it’s all volunteer, so it can be a challenge to stay on task. Part of it is funding. So we’re in flex right now, but we’re still totally engaged,” Klein said.

The organization works to find tenants for vacant structures and offers technical assistance to businesses. “We help businesses navigate City Hall with permitting, we answer questions about zoning and available properties, and we have helped support and fund facade grants,” Klein said. They are also partnering to help promote the weekly Thursday Armstrong Park Series and Fresh Market.

Many new businesses, including Mary’s Ace Hardware, Dreamy Weenies and the chic Bar Tonique have opened in recent years in addition to new residences such as Colonial Condos, and Armstrong Park has also reopened — signs of a rebirth that Klein said will continue to flourish as a streetcar is constructed along the boulevard in the coming year. North Rampart has been advocating for pedestrian and bike-friendly design elements to be implemented as the street is reconfigured for the streetcar’s installment. “We’d like to have North Rampart removed as a designated truck route. We’ve had windows fall out of buildings because of trucks driving by,” she said.

The organization’s annual Main to Main event, RampART, “has a dual focus — to showcase homegrown child artists and to encourage revitalization of the corridor,” said former director Laurie Toups. Artwork by children from McDonough 15 School for the Creative Arts, Craig Elementary and the North Rampart Community Center is displayed in businesses along the corridor and judged for prizes. The artwork is on display the whole month of November.

O.C. Haley Boulevard Main Street

O.C. Haley Boulevard, once known as Dryades Street, was, for decades in the 20th century, the closest thing in the South resembling New York City’s Lower East Side, according to O.C. Haley Main Street Director Dorian Hastings. “There were Czechs, Russians, Eastern European Jews, Irish, Chinese, Italian, African Americans,” she said. The Civil Rights movement had a strong national presence in Central City.

A group including the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, Cafe Reconcile and the Living Witness Church of God partnered in the late 1990s to start the O.C. Haley Business and Merchants Association, which has been active in encouraging reinvestment in the corridor. The association worked to get Main Street status after Hurricane Katrina and partnered with the Central City Renaissance Alliance, a collaborative supported by national funders tasked with revitalizing Central City on many levels. Under the direction of Lynette Coleman, Main Street worked to stimulate the corridor’s commercial revitalization and successfully convinced the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to build its new office on O.C. Haley, Hastings said.

“We’re about development without displacement and offering the people of Central City better opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship. So when Jack and Jake’s opens up in the old Myrtle Banks school building, for example, they’ve committed to hiring people from the neighborhood,” she said.

The organization is funded by grants from J.P. Morgan Chase and the Greater New Orleans Foundation; grants from Main Street and the Jazz and Heritage Foundation fund the organization’s annual Main to Main event, which has traditionally been a gospel festival. This year, the Make a Joyful Noise festival will expand to include performances by Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield, more vendors, Latin music and events (including an after party at Cafe Borrega) and a home tour of homes on Nov. 10.

Old Algiers Main Street Corp.

Old Algiers Main Street Corporation is actually the oldest Main Street in the city, having been established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1996. “At that time there was no state program for urban areas, so we were affiliated with the state but we weren’t an official Louisiana Main Street,” explains board president Valerie Robinson.

They followed Main Street tenets and successfully promoted many businesses in Old Algiers. Robinson served as board president from 2001 to 2008. When Old Algiers became an official Louisiana urban Main Street in 2008, she stepped down as president and a full-time director was hired, but there was no progress during his tenure, according to Robinson. “About a year and a half ago I agreed to come back and revitalize the board,” she said.

“We were totally a volunteer organization [before 2008] and we are now again, due to the fact that the state money has run out,” she said. Despite this, Rob- inson and the board have ambitious plans, including a transportation improvement funding application that the organization will submit to the Department of Transportation for the Newton-Teche corridor. “We’re working with the Regional Planning Commission and our council member to find matching funds,” Robinson said. They’re seeking an architect to help with the project to make Newton and Teche streets “more attractive, appealing and usable.”

Old Algiers Main Street offers technical assistance to local businesses and façade grants and enlivens the area for the holidays to attract more visitors — last year the program started a holiday-lighting contest for businesses, and the number participating this year has grown. They also partner to host events such as Movies in the Park. Holidays in Old Algiers will feature a mini-parade, a concert with school bands and choirs, an arts and crafts boutique and more.

St. Claude Avenue MaIn Street

When St. Claude Main Street president Jonathan Rhodes first joined the board in 2011, “the organization was going through a turbulent time,” he said, and lost its full time director. “After the dust settled and the organization stayed intact, we decided to bring on new board members, and I was elected president.

“We had just come out of the fourth year of the state’s funding,” he said, “and one of the first challenges of our new board was, how are we going to sustain the organization, raise money and rehire a new manager?” Rhodes, an attorney, led the organization through the application for 501c3 status and organized a concerted grant writing effort. St. Claude Main Street was awarded $275,000 from ArtPlace this past summer. “That grant helped us solidify the organization, hire Michael Martin as a full-time manager and look to the future with some sustainability.”

“We have a naturally-occurring arts district, and we work to facilitate those resources that are already existing — and the ArtPlace grant provides the monetary resources to actually get that done,” Martin said. “There are three specific components of the grant: 1) capacity building for the corridor’s arts organizations, 2) community engagement, which will ideally integrate the cultural community with the community at large in terms of its programming, and 3) promotions and marketing. A fourth component is streetscape improvement,” which will include bike parking, benches, shade trees and shelters at bus stops.

Martin and the board have formed a Cultural Advisory Board, comprised of visual and performing artists and representatives of traditional New Orleans arts, as a first step in acting as “a facilitator, connector and organizer of potential funders,” Rhodes said. “Creative placemaking is not just public art to beautify a neighborhood. The idea is to engage the community in the same creative processes that go into making art and use that to address issues we face.”

“This area is changing so quickly and it’s such a long corridor, it’s sometimes difficult to stay on top of changes,” he added. “We try to understand, coordinate stakeholders and encourage responsible development — development that takes into account the needs and desires of the community in which it sits.”

The organization’s beautiful new website, stclaude.org, has a list of their upcoming events, including a bike-friendly business district happy hour on Nov. 9, a free, self-guided tour of studios in the Marigny, Bywater, and St. Roch neighborhoods on Nov. 10 and their Main to Main event, a Night Market (hosted in conjunction with the PRC) on the evening of Nov. 10.

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Southern Food

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