In 2007, a group of funders with a demonstrated commitment to Central City-JPMorgan Chase, the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Foundation for the Mid South-got together with community leaders to envision a neighborhood renaissance. This core group of funders soon evolved into the Central City Funders Collaborative, a group of 25 local and national philanthropic institutions whose initiatives have made great strides in Central City.
“We were delighted to see so many organizations making a commitment to this neighborhood,” said Ellen Lee, senior vice president for programs at the Greater New Orleans Foundation. “Central City has a long, proud history, and it’s now becoming one of the city’s cultural hot spots.”
“We believe that community revitalization and transformation must be community driven,” said Ashleigh Gardere, vice president of community relations at JPMorgan Chase. ”The first thing we did was go to community meetings and meet with residents and stakeholders to gauge interest.”
Three projects were identified at the first meeting between funders and community leaders. The first project was the revitalization of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, a central corridor now vibrant with arts, culture, and community organizations. As part of this initiative, a grant from GNOF enabled the Ashé Cultural Arts Center to buy the building it rented space in, ensuring its longevity and turning the apartments on the upper floors into affordable living spaces for artists. Many community organizations have also made their homes on O. C. Haley thanks to the investments of the Funders Collaborative, including the Central City Renaissance Alliance, the Oretha Castle Haley Main Street Initiative, Good Work Network, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Youth Empowerment Project, the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, and others.
The second project was the redevelopment of the C. J. Peete public housing complex, which had been slated for demolition. The new Harmony Oaks development includes homes for sale, small-scale commercial development, and a “Learning Center,” which includes a new elementary school with recreational and health facilities.
The Collaborative third project was to build an early childhood learning and neighborhood resource center. Construction is now almost complete on the Mahalia Jackson Center, a “one-stop shop” that will provide dozens of services including health care and education to the people of Central City when it opens later this spring.
Far from declaring its work done, the Funders Collaborative is still expanding. Its 25 members have created six funder work groups to focus their efforts in various areas.
“Success is not only that these three projects have happened, but also whether they ignite further neighborhood transformation,” said Gardere.
The Collaborative is also looking beyond the neighborhood to the city, state, and even national level to influence policy that encourages equitable development of urban communities.
“Central City is a case study of how it can happen,” said Gardere. “We’re looking at how to bring these neighborhood successes to the whole city.”