By Sheryl Estrada
CVS Health,one of DiversityInc’s25 Noteworthy Companies,is the first major national retailer to commit to a project in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005.
In May, CVS Health announced plans to rebuild the two CVS pharmacies that were devastated by fire during uprisings in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. The company, whichmade headlines when itended the sale of tobaccoproducts in 2014,is also donating $100,000 to help rebuild Baltimore.
On Aug. 21,New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and District E Councilmember James Gray joined CVS Healthto break ground on a 13,225 square-foot retail store at 5000-5030 North Claiborne Avenue, at the corner of Forstall Street.
“No area was hit harder by Katrina than Lower Nine and we have been planning for a long time to open a store to serve this community,” Roger Francis, Area Vice President of CVS Health in Louisiana said at the groundbreaking. “Thanks to the hard work of many people and the partnership of Mayor Landrieu and Councilmember Gray we are finally making [CVS Health] in the Lower Ninth Ward a reality.”
The store is scheduled to open in January 2016, bringing 20 new full and part-time permanent jobs to the community. CVS Health currently operates 10 stores in New Orleans.
Francis said that since Hurricane Katrina the company has “remained committed” to serving the New Orleans community and aiding the relief and recovery effort.
“We are thrilled by the commitment of [CVS Health] to the people of Lower Nine,” said Landrieu. “For so long, the people of Lower Nine have demanded and deserved economic development, and today we are delivering. As we continue to rebuild New Orleans better and more resilient than before, this new [CVS Health] will be a symbol of renewal and reinvestment in the historic Lower Ninth Ward.”
The majority of those stranded during Hurricane Katrina lived in the Lower Ninth Ward, a historically Black neighborhood, almost completely flooded by the levee breaches.It is the least-recovered New Orleans neighborhood.
The Urban League of Greater New Orleans reports in “State of Black New Orleans: 10 Years Post Katrina” only 54 percent of Black evacuees returned to their pre-Katrina communities, compared with 82 percent of white evacuees. In 2010, the Lower Ninth Ward still experienced population declines of more than 10,000 people.
The city of New Orleans said in astatementLandrieu, who became mayor in 2010, is implementing a targeted, place-based development strategy, in which the Lower Ninth Ward’s recovery will benefit from initiatives including a $52 million “soft second” mortgage homebuyer assistance program and Lot Next Door Program reforms aimed at getting overgrown and vacantproperty back into commerce. Roadwork across the Lower Ninth Ward is also underway.
The city recently completed the new $19 million Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center and new $4.1 million NOFD Engine 22 and 39 Fire Station, which are both located at the intersection of North Claiborne Avenue and Caffin Street in the Lower Ninth Ward, up the street from the CVS pharmacy.
“To the people of the Ninth Ward, you’ve suffered long and been strong,” Gray said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Your strength and determination are beginning to bear fruit.”