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ORETHA CASTLE HALEY BOULEVARD: A Great American Main Street! BY DURING ITS ANNUAL MAIN STREET NOW National Confer- ence in May, the National Main Street Center awarded three Main Street organizations for their exceptional work in revitalizing their historic downtowns or neighborhood commercial districts. The award is called the Great American Main Street Award, or GAMSA. One of the three re- cipients from across the nation for this year’s award was the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business Association (The Boulevard), the organization responsible for implementing the Main Street Approach to revitalize Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in New Orleans.   “The Great American Main Street Award is the highest recognition given out by the National Main Street Center,” said Patrice Frey, the Cen- ter’s President and CEO. “Each year, we celebrate exceptional Main Street America organizations for their work in creating more economically, so- cially and culturally vibrant commercial districts. This year’s winners are truly at the forefront of commercial district revitalization. They are a tes- tament to the power of the Main Street Approach, and the great potential of downtown districts in cities and towns across the country,” she said.   The award recognizes Main Street organizations that demonstrate ex- emplary achievement in the process of strengthening their downtowns and historic commercial districts based on the following selection criteria: • Overall strength of the Main Street program and documented success in creating an exciting place to live, work, play and visit, • Demonstrated impact aligning with the Main Street Approach, • Commitment to historic preservation, • Active involvement of the public and private sector, • And model partnerships, including inclusive engagement of community members and local shareholders in the downtown revitalization process.   The 2017 GAMSA competition was strong, with semi-finalists from 10 very different communities, including Berlin, MD; Cedar Rapids, IA; Chilli- cothe, MO; Columbus, GA; Covington, KY; Goldsboro, NC; Los Alamos, NM; New Orleans, LA; Wausau, WI; and West Chester, PA. These semi-fi- nalists have together generated almost a billion dollars in public and private investment, while creating 5,679 new jobs, opening 1,085 new businesses, rehabilitating 1,359 buildings and clocking over 133,000 volunteer hours.   The excitement level at the GAMSA ceremony was great when Patrice Frey announced the 2017 winners: Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Re- naissance Covington (Kentucky) and West Chester BID (Pennsylvania). Receiving the award on behalf of the OC Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business Association were Board President Carol Bebelle, Executive Di- rector Linda Pompa and Louisiana Main Street Director Ray Scriber.   What makes The Boulevard deserving of recognition as a Great Ameri- can Main Street? The answer can best be summed up in the organization’s award application: “Our Main Street exemplifies how the Main Street Ap- proach can be successfully used in a neighborhood within a large city. We have learned that in spite of the overwhelming challenges faced by cities, we can use a place-based approach to turn around commercial corridor decline and create an area (by building on its assets, history and unique- ness) that draws people back to the city. Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard has reached a point where being here is solidly about the positive, not negative character of the place, its people and its potential.”   The Boulevard was first designated as a Louisiana Main Street district in 2006. It was one of four districts selected by the state coordinating pro- gram, housed in the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, as part of its efforts to assist in the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina. At the time of its designation, the building occupancy rate in the 24 square block district was only 14 percent. In the years since designation, the district has seen the creation of 176 new jobs, 32 new businesses, 24 building re- 10  PRESERVATION IN PRINT • RAY SCRIBER, DIRECTOR, LOUISIANA MAIN STREET FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Ed McMahon, Chair, National Main Street Center, Inc. Board of Di- rectors; Linda Pompa, Director, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business As- sociation; Carol Bebelle, President, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business Association; Ray Scriber, Director, Louisiana Main Street; and Patrice Frey, President and CEO, National Main Street Center, Inc. habilitations, and more than 11,000 volunteer hours. There has also been significant new building construction, creating varied housing, retail and cultural opportunities. The current building occupancy rate is 46 percent.   Originally named Dryades Street, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard oper- ated as a racially mixed business district that began in the 1830s. African- American businesses thrived on Dryades Street at the turn of the 20th century. In addition, newly-arrived Eastern Europeans were operating small family businesses in the Dryades Street area. By the 1930s the street was an entertainment and shopping alternative to Canal Street. Merchants on the strip did not harbor the hostile racial attitudes of some of the Canal Street businesses. Additionally, Dryades Street merchants were diverse — Jews, African-Americans, Italians and others operated side by side. At its height in the 1940s, there were more than 200 commercial establishments in business, including the Dryades Market which flourished with meat, fish and fruit stalls.   By the 1960s, the corridor was recognized as one of the few areas in New Orleans where African-Americans could shop without fear of harass- ment. But after the 1960s, businesses declined for many reasons, including the integration of the other commercial areas of New Orleans prompted by the Civil Rights movement. Dryades Street fell on harder times in the 1970s and 1980s. The same demographic and market forces that depressed other shopping areas across the country also visited Dryades Street. Many residents left the area and the supporting businesses followed. But in the 1990s, a coordinated effort by lending institutions, non-profit organiza- tions, the city’s housing and neighborhood revitalization offices and pri- vate individuals contributed to the present day renewal effort. The Ashé Cultural Arts Center, Café Reconcile and other non-profit organizations rose as the anchors of the revitalization.   While the makeover of The Boulevard has been many years in the mak- ing, several major developments have opened within the past three years. New restaurants such as Casa Borrega and the Roux Carre food court, with tenants such as Estralita’s Express, Johnny’s Jamaican Grill, The Pu- pusa Lady and Diva Dawg, have opened. Cultural and shopping opportu- JUNE 2017