O.C. Haley Is Set to Soar
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is only the latest organization to make the move to this historic boulevard.
Central City’s historic commercial corridor, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, has been bustling with activity over the past few months as work crews restore and rebuild dilapidated buildings, breathing new life into a neighborhood that locals once tended to avoid.
For years tour buses have been bringing groups to the boulevard to experience the Ashe Cultural Center, Café Reconcile and Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center. Now with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and Jack and Jake’s public market moving into the neighborhood, visitors finally have a reason to linger awhile.
“When people come to the neighborhood, they tend to come to do something specific,” says Linda Pompa, executive director of O.C. Haley Boulevard Merchant and Business Association. “There has been some crossover, where people will come to an event at Zeitgeist or Ashe and then walk over to Café Reconcile. It is a nice synergy between the event and meeting type places, and we expect to see more and more of this.”
Among the newest neighbors is the much-anticipated Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which opened the doors to its new 30,000 square-foot space at 1504 O.C. Haley Boulevard on Sept. 29.
“When we left the Riverwalk we had already bought the property on O.C. Haley,” says Liz Williams, president of the SoFAB Institute and director of Southern Food and Beverage Museum. “It is an affordable area and easy to get to by streetcar, which, being a tourist attraction, was important to us.”
Pompa explains that in its heyday there were 200 businesses along the boulevard and it was densely populated.
“The Dryades Market, which is where SoFAB and the Jazz Market iare, was built in 1849, so this has been a commercial district for a very long time,” she says.
Now a hotspot for non-profits and social enterprises, the corridor is being rejuvenated – drawing more locals and tourists into the area.
“With the renaissance of the corridor it becomes not only another neighborhood for our visitors to explore, but also for our citizens,” says Mark Romig, chief executive officer of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Group.
SoFAB wanted to be part of the change.
“We felt like the area was going to be undergoing a renaissance and we wanted to be part of that.” Williams says. “There is a lot of activity on the streets these days, and this is a neighborhood that is really polishing itself up.”
Williams says that when SoFAB was at the Riverwalk, attendance was estimated at approximately 35,000 a year. With the new facilities, those number are expected to reach closer to 100,000 people a year.
Around 40,000 people a year visit Ashe’s performances and exhibits at 1712 O.C. Haley Boulevard – they too are looking to expand to include more performance space and a visitor’s center. Another long term resident, Café Reconcile, recently underwent expansion at 1631 O.C. Haley Boulevard. The restaurant has extended its hours to cater to the evening crowd.
Additionally, restaurants, live music venues and art gallery spaces are all in the pipeline for the commercial corridor, and many established organizations are looking at revamping their buildings.
“Not much on the boulevard is going to be left underutilized, vacant, or blighted – it will continue to be a nice mix of businesses, nonprofits and cultural institutions,” Pompa says.
Mid-November, 2014 – Jack and Jake’s
Filling a 23,000-square-foot space at what was formerly the Myrtle Banks school building at 1307 O.C. Haley Boulevard, Jack and Jake’s will include a fresh food market, oyster bar, bistro pub, art gallery, coffee shop, juice bar and office spaces for non-profits and small businesses.
Spring of 2015 – The NOJO Jazz Market
A 360-seat performance and rehearsal venue at 1436 O.C. Haley Boulevard
Margaret Quilter is an Australian expat whose tales of adventures abroad have been published in international magazines. Check out her weekly blog, “Tourism Biz” at BizNewOrleans.com