Vance Vaucresson’s family and their business have been a fixture in the 7th Ward since the turn of the last century, starting with butcher shops at the old St. Bernard Meat Market before growing into a sausage company with a processing plant at North Roman Street and St. Bernard Avenue.
That building closed after Hurricane Katrina, but Vaucresson has plans to turn it and the neighboring, long-vacant Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church into a residential and commercial development that he said will help strengthen a corridor historically linked with New Orleans’ Creole community.
The project, a mixed-use, mixed-income development spanning the two properties, is both an effort to help revitalize the corridor and a way to ensure residents of the 7th Ward are able to stay in their own neighborhood in the face of gentrification, he said.
“The area is in the middle of a great deal of gentrification; as the area is turning over, the housing stock is getting refurbished in the neighborhoods,” Vaucresson said. “We’re seeing average home prices going up, seeing the average rental rates for the area going up, so much so that some of the residents who live there now won’t be able to live in the area they grew up in. They can’t afford it.”
Plans for the project call for 53 apartments, with 44 of those set aside for low-income residents.
Those units are envisioned as fitting within the much larger plans for the Iberville Choice Neighborhood and Lafitte Redevelopment projects. The affordable units will replace some of the low-income housing lost as part of those projects.
The project is being put together by a team including Vaucresson, Columbia Residential, Providence Community Housing and Urban Focus Louisiana. The latest funding plans include the use of about $7 million in tax credits for low-income development to cover most of the roughly $10 million cost of the residential portion of the project.
Commercial space in the development will include a cafe that Vaucresson said will serve his family’s hot sausage po-boys and Creole cuisine.
Vaucresson’s family has a long history in the city, and he speaks with pride about the fact they had a stall at the first Jazz Fest and that his father was the first black man to open a business on Bourbon Street, named Cafe Creole.
The Sacred Heart church and school were built during the segregation era to serve the white population of the 7th Ward while black residents attended the parishes of Corpus Christi and St. Augustine. It was completed in 1955, but before long, the pace of white flight to the suburbs accelerated, and the church eventually was shuttered.
The church will be used for residential space, according to the latest plans for the property.
“We want to take that space which had been vacant for over 30 years, the Sacred Heart space, which was an example of segregationist New Orleans, and bring it back in commerce to serve the community,” Vaucresson said.
He said he was partially inspired by the redevelopment of the Circle Food Store a couple of blocks away on St. Bernard Avenue.
Zoning changes needed for the project were approved this month by the New Orleans City Council.
“This is a turning point. You have this mixed-use development which will bring in retail, which is great for the area,” said Councilman Jared Brossett, who represents the area and whose family has roots in the neighborhood.
The project is just the latest positive step for the area, he said.
“I feel momentum in that we’re moving in the right direction, and this project — the Vaucresson Sacred Heart project — is definitely going to make for a good example for further development,” Brossett said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.