Months of construction yielded changes to O.C Haley from Calliope to St. Andrews streets, including:
- changing the two traffic lanes on each side of the neutral ground to single traffic lanes paralleled by bike and parking lanes;
- repairing damaged sidewalks and outfitting them with ADA-compliant curbs
- Repaving the asphalt;
- installing wider pedestrian refuges;
- removing parts of the neutral ground;
- laying down new pedestrian and bike striping;
- and landscaping.
Construction began last August. The project was funded by a federal Community Development Block Grant for disaster recovery.
Formerly called Dryades Street, O.C. Haley for decades hosted music, businesses and the foundational energies of the civil rights movement. Originally, the corridor was home to Irish and German immigrants in the 1800s, followed by Eastern-European Jewish immigrants and African Americans who, in the 1960s, held the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Central City. The roots of the civil rights movement run so deep in the neighborhood that Dryades Street was renamed in the late 1980s in honor of civil rights pioneer Oretha Castle Haley, who in 1960 pushed for a boycott of stores on Dryades that refused to hire black employees.
Over the years, O.C. Haley fell into disrepair. Slowly, restaurants and music venues like Cafe Reconcile, Toups South, the Dryades Public Market and Casa Borrega joined other businesses and cultural bastions like the Peoples Health Jazz Market, the Ashe Cultural Arts Center and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority Office to spur a renaissance of the historic corridor.
Speaking at Tuesday's ceremony, Carol Bebelle, the co-founder and executive director of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, said O.C. Haley's revitalization has been 40 years in the making. The physical alterations to the street, for Bebelle, is the icing on the cake.
"This community has been writing down its dreams and hopes and ideas for the future," Bebelle said. "All of those folks have come together to be able to help make this moment possible."
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the O.C. Haley project is the 25th streetscape project the city has completed since he took office in 2010.
"This is a physical manifestation of what it looks like to not build the city back the way it was (after Hurricane Katrina), but to build the city the way it always should have been if we'd gotten it right the first time," he said. "I would like to believe that what we have here is the future of the city of New Orleans tied to its past."