Battered and beaten by water and wind, all but forgotten, the tower still stands in New Orleans East.
Formerly known as the thriving elderly community of Forest Towers East, it serves as a stark reminder of the damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on the city. The white stucco that covered its exterior has been ripped away in some places, leaving the building open to the elements. Exposed steel beams have collapsed high up on the back side of the building, and the roof has holes that have left continuous leaks.
Glenn Foster gazes up at the building and sees an opportunity.
Foster, a former defensive end for the New Orleans Saints, will begin renovating the tower in October, stripping it down to the studs and rebuilding it into Lake Forest Towers, a 200-unit, multi-family building for independent seniors and veterans, a project that is the crown jewel of Foster’s post-football career as a general contractor, developer and real estate agent.
“I didn’t really think we were going to do so well so soon with construction,” Foster said. “It was just something in the background, in the works, something to fall back on if, for whatever reason, I decided to retire. I didn’t realize retirement was going to come so soon.”
The right time
Foster could still be playing football if he wanted to.
Brought in by the Saints as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois three years ago, Foster flashed promise as a pass rusher by notching three sacks as a rookie, and he headed into his sophomore season with his heart set on becoming a star.
A knee injury changed those plans. Foster tore the ACL, LCL and meniscus in his knee against Detroit in October 2014. Doctors rebuilt the knee but, six months later, an injury to his back forced Foster to undergo a microdiscectomy.
He never got back on the field for the Saints. Ten days into training camp last August, New Orleans released him.
Foster kept rehabbing and, by October, he was ready to try out for NFL teams again. He worked out for eight teams in November and December. At least one team offered him a contract in February.
But by that time, the wheels in Foster’s brain had been turning.
“I enjoyed playing the game, getting to the quarterback and all of those things, but when you get to the business side of things, where my maximum value as a player has diminished tremendously due to the injuries, I’m playing with a ceiling,” Foster said. “If you have all these injuries, they’re not going to pay you top dollar.”
Foster also had an option that few 25-year-old players can boast, even though the average NFL career is only three years: a clear path to the next phase of his life.
Back in 2014, his wife, Pamela, had earned a general contractor’s license, and the Fosters established P&G Contractors with an eye on building new houses in a city full of 1960s-era ranch-style homes.
Not only had the Fosters begun a business, they had begun building relationships and contacts within the business all over New Orleans, setting up a foundation for their fledgling company.
“It got to a point where I was like, ‘Do I want to pick up and move from New Orleans?’ ” Foster said. “I’ve already got a big foundation here. Got a lot of friends, family — we just built a new home down here. It got to a point where playing with injuries and picking up and moving wasn’t worth it anymore. I’m happy, and my family’s happy down here.”
Three years into his NFL career, Foster decided to walk away from the game.
‘You can’t be scared’
Football was never Foster’s only dream. He did not play until his sophomore year at Chicago’s Mount Carmel High; he received his first scholarship offer as a junior. Without the obvious carrot of a football career in front of him early in his teenage years, Foster had time to focus on another kind of dream entirely.
Business called to him. His mother, Sabrina, developed and managed properties on Chicago’s west and south sides, and her two children grew up helping her work on those properties and watching her work with tenants.
When he was 16, Foster went to work for his cousin, Allen Eaton, in the summer. Eaton, a stockbroker who worked at Merrill Lynch and now owns Eaton Brokerage in Chicago, has a couple of seats on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and he put Foster to work as a runner.
“I’m in the trading pit with multimillionaire stockbrokers, and I’m 16 years old,” Foster said. “That gave me my dream of being a great businessman.”
Foster majored in finance and sociology at Illinois, but the seeds for P&G Contractors weren’t planted until after he signed with the Saints. When he moved to New Orleans, Foster and his wife rented a house near the team facility, and he couldn’t help but notice a beautiful, updated home in his neighborhood.
“I saw a home that was a tear-down right behind me in Metairie,” Foster said. “Went over there, saw an $800,000, $900,000 home sitting on a cul-de-sac next to a bunch of ranch-style homes, 1960 homes. I just saw a vision.”
With so many older, ranch-style homes in Metairie, Foster saw an opportunity to start tearing some down and building brand-new homes for middle-class families.
Foster has never been shy. He walked over to the house and knocked on the door.
“He said, ‘I just want to tell you I love your house. I live around the corner, and I just wanted to know: Who built your house for you?’ ” his neighbor, Paul Austin, said. “It just so happens that I built it myself.”
Austin, who owns Crescent Foundations, a pile-driving company in Metairie, is a third-generation member of the construction business. The pair struck up a friendship, bonding over their faith and the joys of parenthood, and Austin showed Foster and his wife the particulars of business, advising them to get qualified to handle as much of the process as possible.
“The only thing he’s missing is the 20 years of experience,” Austin said. “He went and got his realtor’s license, and I think that’s wonderful, because every little thing that you add to your résumé — (applying for the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) certification, a realtor’s license, contractor’s license — every step helps you make another step.”
Austin helped introduce Foster to reliable, honest sub-contractors, allowing Foster and his wife to develop solid working partnerships that will be key to P&G Contractors moving forward. Now, Foster has a reliable network of sub-contractors, and he continues to go to Austin for any advice he can get.
Austin has never worked with a young man so eager to learn.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’ve trained a lot of men, but usually, I have to do the pushing,” Austin said. “Glenn’s very aggressive, and I’m glad he is. You can’t be scared. You’ve got to take those chances sometimes. He’s the only one who came looking to work hard. Now, I’ve had people come to me trying to take advantage of me, but Glenn’s willing to do (the work) on his own. I don’t mind helping anybody like that.”
Keeping busy in ‘retirement’
Foster’s decision to say goodbye to football helped kick his business interests into high gear.
Four months ago, he earned his real estate license and started working for Keller-Williams. One of his first real estate clients, Mohammad Musa, struck up a conversation with Foster, and the pair ended up forming a business partnership. Musa’s company, Lake Forest LLC, hired Foster to build Lake Forest Towers, and the pair have a plan to build Section 8 homes in Plaquemines Parish, where Musa said there’s a need for low-income housing.
Musa took inquiries from 10 people on the project and sat down with six before hiring Foster. A Saints fan, he knew enough about Foster’s career to test his honesty. Another NFL player — Musa declined to name names — had approached him in the past, and Musa backed away from the partnership after the player evaded certain questions.
“It’s very difficult to find honest people in our business,” Musa said. “It was questions about his life or why he retired from the NFL. I already knew the answers, but he wasn’t lying to me.”
Foster’s people skills have always been his best asset.
“He’s able to figure out good ways, effective ways to relate to a client. In this industry, you have many, many different clients with different egos and different characteristics, and he was able to relate to each one,” Eaton said. “My clients are Fortune 500 companies; the Merrills, the Morgan Stanleys, they would look forward to him coming back. That was quite extraordinary, his time and his makeup at that age. ... I haven’t had someone like that since.”
When Foster was in college, one of his mother’s tenants was having trouble with his son. Sabrina asked Foster to talk to him. By the time Foster was done, her tenant’s child had come around, and Sabrina had noticed something about her son.
He had changed his speech pattern to make the kid more comfortable.
“Glenn talked to him like he was a therapist or a social services person,” Sabrina said. “One of the strengths he had was communicating with different types of people.”
Foster’s also smart enough to use his status as a former Saints player to attract interest.
And he has crafted a post-career business that seems to be booming. In just four months, Foster has reeled in 40 real estate clients. P&G Contractors just finished its first house, and the Fosters start on the second next week, with projects in Metairie and the north shore ready to start in the next couple of months. In the fall, Sabrina will come down to help her son oversee the growing business and teach him to manage properties. In October, work begins on Lake Forest Towers.
By the time the Saints take the field in the fall, Foster will be a very busy man.
Football has helped. By playing in the NFL, Foster was able to earn the startup capital for his fledgling company, and the connections have helped him find investors and projects.
“I never saw myself as a developer, but the opportunity came for us to do it, and both businesses are going really well,” Foster said. “That comes with the credibility of being a former Saint. There’s no way you could come to New Orleans as a 25-year-old and be able to do that.”
Not a lot of NFL players his age would be able to pull it off right away, either. But only a few months after giving up football for good, Foster’s post-football dreams seem well within reach.