New small businesses, hip nightspots and a vibrant art gallery scene are all part of a grassroots revival along St. Claude Avenue, the historic but long-neglected commercial corridor running between St. Roch, Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. Now, after a long wait, work has begun to return an important piece of this downtown area’s past.
City officials recently marked the groundbreaking on a project to restore and reopen the St. Roch Market, a relative of the better-known French Market and a vestigial reminder of the neighborhood market system that once thrived across New Orleans.
“We’re reclaiming this neighborhood,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at an event announcing the project. “And this building is going to be a symbol of the rebirth of the city.”
The market itself dates to 1875, when it was originally built as an open-air structure for food vendors supplying neighborhood residents. It was later enclosed and saw extensive renovations during the 1930s through a Works Progress Administration relief project. In more recent times, the building operated as a seafood market and poor boy shop, though the facility was a shadow of its former self by the time Hurricane Katrina hit and flooding put an end to business here.
By 2007, the St. Roch Market was one of 17 special recovery zones named by the Nagin administration, but despite plans and studies of the building, no work was completed. Now, the city has budgeted $3.7 million to redevelop the old market for a new generation of food suppliers and commerce under its roof.
Plans call for restoration of the interior and exterior of the 8,600-square-foot market, with new electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems and new stalls for businesses that want to lease space, explains Dustin Bass, vice president of project contractor The Lathan Co. The same Mobile, Ala.-based company has completed historic restoration work on prominent local properties including the Cabildo, the Presbytere and the Pontalba Apartments.
In addition to the market makeover, the city plans to finish some $370,000 in landscaping work on the broad neutral ground stretching behind the market, creating an “art walk” along St. Roch Avenue. The overall project is expected to wrap up in early spring 2013.