It was a few months after Hurricane Katrina, and as then-Mayor Ray Nagin and a rebuilding commission began to plan out recovery efforts, the entire neighborhood of Broadmoor was reduced to a green dot on some maps of the future New Orleans.
Some planners thought the low-lying neighborhood, which flooded badly in the aftermath of the storm, should be razed and turned into green space.
But Broadmoor’s residents weren’t about to let that happen, and they fought for its recovery.
Nine years later, officials on Saturday honored the community’s resilience with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Broadmoor Arts and Wellness Center, a $2 million, 11,500-square-foot anchor to the area’s expanding education corridor.
“I’m looking out at the faces I see here today, and I see people who were here 10 years ago when people in this neighborhood took disaster recovery in their own hands,” Maggie Carroll, president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, told the crowd of hundreds who had gathered to watch the ceremony.
Carroll praised city officials like Mayor Mitch Landrieu and City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell — a former association president — as well as the residents, spiritual leaders and educators who helped create the Broadmoor Redevelopment Plan, a vision for what the neighborhood could become if it were rebuilt after the storm.
“This plan is basically a group of dreams,” Carroll said. “Today, another one of those dreams has become a reality.”
The center, housed on the second floor of the freshly renovated former home of St. Matthias School on Gen. Taylor Street, opened to the public in July. It boasts a movement studio where teachers hold dance, fitness and yoga classes; a wellness treatment area that offers massage and acupuncture; and small offices that host counseling services on a sliding fee scale for local residents.
With the capability to serve about 350 community members a day, the center marks the transformation of the neighborhood’s largest piece of blight while offering space for nonprofits such as Young Audiences, Community Works, the Center for Restorative Approaches, the Thibodeaux School of Music and Early Learning Focus.
It joins Andrew H. Wilson Charter School, the Rosa F. Keller Library & Community Center and South Broad Community Health as part of the neighborhood’s education hub, which is located in Broadmoor but provides services for the whole city.
Speaking to the crowd, Landrieu pointed to Wilson School, the library and other developments that have been built in Broadmoor since Katrina, saying the neighborhood is a shining example of just how resilient New Orleans communities can be.
“We are the nation’s laboratory for innovation and change, and a symbol to the rest of America that you can come back from the darkest hours,” Landrieu said. “And there’s no other community that represents us better than Broadmoor.”
On Saturday, as the official opening of the center was celebrated with a hip-hop dance flash mob, open house performances by youth and a reception, Cantrell urged Broadmoor residents to think about how important the space will be for community members in the future.
To that end, she asked that residents vote in November to continue a $100 parcel fee that would help keep the community center open. The fee pays for things like a community social worker, which was first funded back in 2010, when Broadmoor residents voted to make their neighborhood an “improvement district.”
“Broadmoor has been consistent, not about just talking and planning, but we have been consistent with taking action and implementing programs that started 10 years ago,” Cantrell said. “We are going to have to continue to reinvest in ourselves and in this community.”
Some of those at the celebration said the fight to bring the neighborhood back has been well worth it.
As parents chatted, staff members taught children how to do handstands on a large foam mat in the Play and Grow Studio, while next door in the Movement Room, preteens practiced a dance routine to a Beyoncé song. Down the hall, the Rev. Dennis Hayes, of Blessed Trinity Parish, spoke to members of the community who had come to see what the center has to offer.
“I see so many people who believed in and contributed to this center opening today,” said Emily Wolff, the executive director of the Broadmoor Improvement Association. Because of projects like the Health and Wellness Center, she said, Broadmoor is on its way to becoming a better neighborhood than it was before the storm.
“This is a major accomplishment,” Wolff said, adding that the center’s opening was a testament to the neighborhood’s persistence and collaboration. “From start to end, this building has always been about community. And when I look around and see all that community, my heart bursts.”