NEW ORLEANS — Vacant and deteriorating since Hurricane Katrina, the old grocery store on North Broad Street and Bienville Avenue that housed a Schwegmann Giant Supermarket for most of its existence has found new life as a community hub.
City and community leaders on Thursday broke ground on The ReFresh Project. Once completed, the 60,000-square-foot building will house a Whole Foods Market as an anchor tenant, and also provide space to Liberty’s Kitchen along with Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine.
The goal, developers say, is to provide economic development along the Broad Street Corridor and to deliver fresh food to neighborhoods along Broad Street that do not have access to those options. It will also serve as a community gathering spot when work wraps in the fall.
“This is not just a grocery store,” said Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Broad Community Connections, which works to restore Broad between Tulane Avenue and Bayou Road.
The nonprofit, which has spearheaded the work, will receive a $1 million loan from the city’s Fresh Food Retailer Initiative. Up to half of that loan will be forgivable, City Hall spokesman Ryan Berni has said.
Funding for the project also will come from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which approved a $900,000 grant for the work.
None of that money is going to the Whole Foods aspect.
Whole Foods Market will take up 25,000 square feet of space and serve as an anchor tenant in the structure that most recently housed a Robért’s Fresh Market. However, Schwartz said there will be ample space for other tenants and their needs.
Tulane’s Goldring Center will take up 4,600 square feet and will include a teaching kitchen. That kitchen will be the first of its kind in the country that will be affiliated with a medical school. Medical students, chefs, doctors and the public will be able to learn about healthy cooking and the role food plays in preventing and managing obesity and associated diseases.
Liberty’s Kitchen will move from its home on Tulane and Broad to the new development.
That nonprofit provides youth with training that combines hands-on food-service training as servers, cooks and front-house staff with classroom instruction, education programs and job placement services.
While more than 200 young people have participated in the program since its inception, the time has come for more space to increase participation levels and services, said Janet Davas, Liberty’s Kitchen’s co-founder and executive director. Her group will get 10,000 square feet in the building to make that happen.
“That’s the purpose of doing this,” she said of the move. “We saw a real need.”
In addition to those tenants, the building will include office and community spaces, including the central office for FirstLine Schools and the headquarters for Broad Community Connections.