Community Quarterback in New Orleans Takes Its Inspiration from East Lake

The Charles R. Yates family in Atlanta has deep ties to Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood. The Drew Charter School, the linchpin of the East Lake Foundation’s work in eradicating intergenerational poverty in the neighborhood, is located on what was the site of the family homes. Charlie Yates, Sr., learned to play golf at East Lake Golf Club and was mentored by the legendary Bobby Jones. Involved in many civic ventures over the years, he had supported Tom Cousins’ efforts in East Lake.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Charlie Yates Jr., in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit that city, invited Gerry Barousse, Mike Rodrigue and Gary Solomon, founders of the Bayou District Foundation, to visit East Lake to see what was being accomplished there. They hoped they could learn lessons from the work in East Lake that could help with recovery in the Gentilly neighborhood, hard hit by the hurricane.

The trio liked what they saw at East Lake and immediately saw similarities with New Orleans. City Park, ruined by Katrina’s flood waters, had included a golf course. A nearby public housing project was beyond repair, and schools in the neighborhood were failing. The more they talked with the East Lake Foundation leadership, the more everyone began to see that what East Lake was doing to create a mixed-income community could be replicated in New Orleans. The East Lake Foundation asked their executive director at the time, Carol Naughton, to help Gerry, Mike and Gary replicate what they saw in East Lake, which led to the establishment of the Purpose Built Communities model.

That was 11 years ago. Since then, the Bayou District Foundation in partnership with Columbia Residential developed Columbia Parc, comprised of nearly 700 new mixed-income apartments. It’s fully leased and offers a safe, welcoming place for families with a variety of incomes. Crime in the neighborhood has plummeted. Between 2001 and 2005, the St. Bernard public housing development, which occupied 52 acres in the neighborhood, witnessed some 684 felonies and 42 murders. Today, crime is virtually nonexistent.

Columbia Parc Apartments is a group 685 mixed-income residences in New Orleans. Photo Courtesy of The Bayou District Foundation.

The New Orleans Planning Commission recently approved the plan for a $26 million charter school for the neighborhood. KIPP, the foundation’s charter school partner, will move the KIPP Believe elementary school and KIPP College Prep school to the facility when it is completed in time for the 2018-2019 school year. Along with an early childhood learning facility operated by Educare and serving some 165 children, the new charter school will help the neighborhood achieve one of the pillars of the Purpose Built Model – high-quality cradle to college education. The school will be financed in part through one of the first low-cost loans from “Equity with a Twist” program of the Low Income Investment Fund and JPMorgan Chase to support solutions to long-term, intergenerational poverty.

Educare New Orleans
Educare in New Orleans is open to children six weeks to five years. Photo Courtesy of The Bayou District Foundation.

Last April, a new championship golf course opened in City Park. Bayou Oaks at City Park is the newest jewel in the crown of the extraordinary public-private partnership to rebuild and revitalize the Gentilly neighborhood and provide opportunity to the individuals and families who live there. The golf course is expected to generate roughly $500,000 per year to support programming and education at Columbia Parc.

Photo Courtesy of The Bayou District Foundation.

The idea of using a golf course as a revenue generator to support neighborhood transformation came from East Lake, as well. The PGA Tour Championship has taken place at East Lake each year since 2004. That tournament, along with ancillary events such as the East Lake Invitational and Party on the Green generate more than $2 million each year for the East Lake Foundation.

The Bayou District Foundation continues its journey to bring the neighborhood back and provide pathways out of poverty for its residents. It has taken patience and perseverance to accomplish what the board set out to do when Barousse, Rodrigue and Solomon returned from their visit to East Lake in 2005. As Barousse noted at the opening of Bayou Oaks, it’s the work of the many people and organizations who believed in the work and turned an idea into reality.