NEWS BEAT: St. Roch gets rolling

The St. Roch Market, a St. Claude Avenue relative of the better-known French Market, long served as a gateway for a neighborhood that includes such distinctive New Orleans elements as an oak-shaded neutral ground, a historic cemetery and a diverse mix of shotgun houses, Creole cottages and small businesses.   

The market is closed and the surrounding neighborhood is dealing with long-term economic issues and the Hurricane Katrina disaster, but a New York architect with local roots is promoting a plan aimed at revitalizing both the market and the homes around it. The first phase of the plan, conceived by architect Drew Lang, calls for the construction of two new buildings on a nearby lot using sustainable, environmentally-friendly materials and systems, and is slated to begin this spring – pending ongoing fundraising efforts. The subsequent restoration of the market, meanwhile, is intended to serve as an anchor for further redevelopment in the area by others.

Lang is a New Orleans native and says he felt compelled to do something for his hometown after Katrina. There was a lot of talk about progressive ideas for rebuilding, he says, but a frustrating lack of action. So he set out to start his own project in the hopes that it would be a catalyst for others.

“We wanted a prominently located, civic-type project and we landed on the market,” says Lang.

His firm came up with a plan that begins on the corner lot at 1700 St. Roch Ave., where they will erect two new buildings with four residential units and one commercial space. Once complete, the housing units will be sold at-cost or for no more than $150,000 to returning neighborhood residents qualified by the local nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services.

“Housing is the first step, so we’re building from the ground up,” says project manager Isbella Bruno, also a New Orleans native. 

Lang describes the project as a volunteer effort and says his firm is working with an array of local and national organizations to see it through. For instance, some of the planning for the restoration of the St. Roch Market was done by students visiting from Cornell University in 2006, while the list of project partners ranges from the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

“We have good momentum and we’re certain it will happen,” says Lang.

Lang Architecture is marshalling fundraising and in-kind donations for the project, including the housing phase, the market restoration and funds to help restore existing homes in the St. Roch area. – I.M.

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