As a businessman and New Orleans real estate developer, Gerard Barousse, Jr., has a unique belief that the strength of a community is only as good as the strength of the family.
After Hurricane Katrina, he wanted to make an impact on housing and education, which he saw as a way to help the grieving city — all while improving conditions for families.
Along with a group of civic and business friends, Barousse was introduced to a successful Atlanta community redevelopment program called East Lake. The Bayou District Foundation was created with a vision to implement a similar model for positive impact on families in New Orleans.
The foundation identified the St. Bernard Public Housing Project as the best neighborhood to implement this redevelopment, as the housing was substandard prior to being swamped by 10 feet of water when the levees broke. Many years in the making, the outcome is Columbia Parc — a “holistic community model” encompassing 18 city blocks and 52 acres, and including mixed income housing, cradle-to-college education, and wellness and recreational facilities to improve quality of life.
“We have gone from using a model to becoming a model for the nation,” Barousse says. “The quality of the homes, the extensive amenities, the community programming and the educational support are just phenomenal. We are really proud of how Columbia Parc has revitalized the area and how our efforts are proving to change the cycle of poverty in this neighborhood and beyond.”
Columbia Parc boasts 685 mixed income residential units, a $9 million Educare early education center, a business center, a cyber cafe, two movie theaters, two fitness centers and an outdoor pool. There are three playgrounds, a play field and green space with grills for picnics, pets and walks. The residential area includes 120 units of senior housing. Each residential block is evenly mixed among market rate, low-income and public housing tenants. The master plan reaches beyond the bounds of Columbia Parc, encompassing a total of 1,325 units, including 300 affordable home owner properties.
To complete the “cradle-to-college” model, the foundation has partnered with KIPP New Orleans to build a new K-8 charter school facility — KIPP Believe — to ensure that Educare graduates continue with their quality education. Students can continue on to KIPP high schools, and the foundation also works with McDonogh 35 preparatory high school, just two blocks away, in providing another quality option for high school-ready students.
The Bayou District Foundation has partnered with nearby City Park in the construction of the new championship golf course. Through this partnership, the Bayou District Foundation is providing $8.9 million in funds toward the total $24.5 million project, and it will manage the golf complex in conjunction with Golf Course Properties. Net operation revenues will be shared between the Park and the Bayou District Foundation, with the Bayou District share anticipated to reach $500,000 per year — monies that will provide a long-term revenue source for educational and community programs.
Barousse is credited as the visionary and driving force for the Bayou District Foundation. He has led every step of its development and continues to lead through the latter stages of the Columbia Parc Community. Now he is being recognized with a 2016 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Angel Award for his contribution to Louisiana’s children.
“When I started on this journey, I had little idea of the complexity of what we were taking on,” Barousse says. “This was an opportunity to do something to help the city. That we’ve been able to grow this into such a force for healing for the families of Gentilly and beyond has been tremendously rewarding.” columbiaparc.com
COLUMBIA PARC AT-A-GLANCE
Since its opening in 2010, Columbia Parc has been 100 percent occupied.
Crime in the neighborhood has reduced by nearly 100 percent.
Of the children who come through the Columbia Parc early education programs, over 94 percent arrive to kindergarten on-grade and ready to succeed.