St. Roch Market reopens on St. Claude Avenue



St. Roch Market officially reopened today after 10 years as a shuttered reminder of Hurricane Katrina along St. Claude Avenue. Mike Martin still remembers buying seafood in the back of the long, airy warehouse where he now works as a busser. "I loved it," he said.

Since 2005, Martin has been waiting for something to happen with the building. "When I saw them working on it, I said they must be getting ready to do something with it," he said. "I saw that they were going to return it to the market with the different vendors and everything." Martin lives a few blocks away, and when he finally saw people inside the building, he went in and filled out an application. "I'm a people person so I like talking to people, and a lot of people have been in here, so I love it," he said.

The handful of local politicians, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu, shoppers and employees who crowded in front of the market this morning for a ribbon-cutting shared Martin's enthusiasm. After a few comments and a few bars from the KIPP Academy marching band, dozens of ice-coffee sipping (courtesy of Coast Roast) shoppers stood in lines for tastes from King Creole, sandwiches from Shank Shop, fresh oysters and more.

"It's my first time since it opened in 10 years," said shopper Sonji Sparks, standing in line for the Sweet Spot Bakery, which sells cakes, pastries, fresh bread and granola. "I used to come all the time. It's totally different, and it's better. ...The prices are wonderful to me. It's not too high. I like the healthy foods they're selling. I'm trying to get into the healthy foods."

The market is comprised of 13 prepared food vendors, produce and dry goods sections and a cocktail bar called The Mayhaw. Tables and chairs trace the centerline of the building, with additional seating outside on the patio. In his remarks, Landrieu called the market a good example of the new New Orleans — one that has federal, local and state governments working hand-in-hand with private industry. The project was a $3.6 million renovation funded by FEMA public assistance and with Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery assistance. Will Donaldson said the market has already employed 100 people. 

"This is your community center," Landrieu said. "This is your neighborhood. This is to build this neighborhood back in a way that gives us an opportunity to give folks New Orleans to live and work and play. And of course, the new New Orleans way. This is the only way it works, is for everybody to be at the table, local, state, federal government, horizontal, vertical, neighborhood, community leaders, faith-based, non-profits." 



William Murphy, former president of the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association and longtime resident of the neighborhood, told Gambit he's heard neighbors complain about pricing, but doesn't think those gripes have much footing. "A guy in the meeting last night said he thought it was pricey," Murphy said. "But if you go to a convenience store it will cost you $7 plus a drink. And you don't have a place to sit down that's air-conditioned."

"The renovation is so nice people expect to pay a lot more, but they're really not," he added. "The prices are not much different than Rally's or Jack's Meat Market. But you can't sit down inside, and at Jack's Meat Market you might get shot. You know, there are murders out there." 

The symbolism of the market's renovation was not lost as community leaders, including New Orleans City District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey and Louisiana Office of Community Development director Pat Forbes. Forbes reflected on the upcoming 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods of 2005. 

"The very first structure that we approved for community development block grant funds was the St. Roch pathway in the neutral ground back here," Forbes said. "And whenever we did that, it was easy for people to say 'What in the world are you doing? That's so small in the grand scheme of the recovery of the city of New Orleans.' But I look around us now, at the wisdom of the mayor and his team, the council, the folks that have been working here, at the federal level, the teamwork and the wisdom to make all these investments to return places like this to the community are critical. The business is back."

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