This story first appeared in the December issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door each month? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
For most of their young lives, football was life for Gerald Baptiste and Korey Williams. Both were raised by single parents in what they describe as “poverty-stricken” neighborhoods in New Orleans; for both, professional football players were some of the only successful males to look up to, presenting the only opportunity, it seemed, to achieve wealth, prestige and fulfillment.
Both were stars on the Edna Karr High School football team — Baptiste as a quarterback and Williams as a linebacker — and both ended up attending and having successful football careers at Southern Mississippi University. But for a variety of reasons, careers in the NFL eluded the young men.
So both returned to New Orleans with aspirations to start their own businesses. Baptiste, being two years older, did so first: Mentored by men with experience in custodial services, he founded Eagle Eye Resources, a firm specializing in facility maintenance, in 2013. A few years later Williams returned home, too, and soon joined forces with Baptiste. The company grew, and before long the duo was focusing on real estate.
They began to acquire historic properties and restore them. Some they have sold, others they have kept as rentals. So far Baptiste and Williams, who are 30 and 28 years old, respectively, have completed renovations in West Carrollton, Bayou St. John, New Marigny, New Bywater and Gentilly.
“There is no other city in the world like New Orleans,” Baptiste said. The friends share a love of travel, and both frequently go on trips to explore new locales. But the architecture found in New Orleans is utterly unique, they agree.
And fixing it up gives them an opportunity to help neighborhoods and residents in big ways. “This is our city,” Williams said. “Everyone keeps telling us, ‘You young guys could make so much more money outside of New Orleans!’ But this is our city and we take pride in showing our faces in the community, talking to the elders, talking to our peers, and to the youth, because that can go a long way.”
Showing kids another — and perhaps more realistic — way to succeed matters to Baptiste and Williams, who both remember struggling to find role models who weren’t sports figures while growing up in New Orleans. “We emphasize putting positive imagery in neighborhoods, in front of these little kids who are getting off of school buses, just so they can see some guys not too much older than them” transforming their neighborhood for the better, Williams said. “We explain processes, we talk to them, we give guidance.”
(Unsurprisingly, both mentor youth in their spare time — Baptiste and Williams serve as role models for 8th grade boys as part of the Silverback Society.)
Day to day, Williams finds potential properties for Eagle Eye to pursue, and Baptiste then crunches the numbers. When they close a deal, they walk through the home together and plan how to best renovate it, focusing on “design, flow and feel,” Baptiste said. They manage their projects, from overseeing subcontractors to picking out tile and knobs. Their last project, a shotgun on Joliet Street, sold less than 36 hours after hitting the market.
“Re-beautifying and keeping that same historic integrity” of buildings in historic neighborhoods is important, Baptiste said. The duo has restored several homes in the West Carrollton neighborhood and their long-term presence there has made the neighbors start to feel like family. “People know us, and we know them. They stop us and say, ‘We like what you’re doing, it’s good to have some positive role models in our neighborhood,’” Williams said. “When people are looking up to you and you’re trying to set a good example, that’s one of the things that fuels us.”
“We have a real, deep, personal connection to what’s going on in these areas,” Baptiste said. “I had uncles who used to live [in West Carrollton] and I would visit as a kid. Producing a product that people can really appreciate and love gives us great joy.
“With us developing in the area, people spend dollars in that geographical location,” he added. “So not only are we driving development in these areas, but we’re driving commerce, too.”
They hope to expand into developing commercial real estate in 2018.
“We’re two guys who had football dreams at one point, and wanted to utilize those dreams to impact our communities and our families,” Williams said. “It’s just a different sport now. Real estate gives us the same opportunity to change our families’ lives and our community, and for people to perceive New Orleans differently.”