Drive down St. Claude Ave. into Old Arabi and you'll find some abandoned store fronts and empty lots. St. Bernard Parish officials want to change that through a new revitalization plan.

Residents are excited about the plans.

“It is quiet. I love being close to the river, they have a lot of community things that go on in Arabi as well as St. Bernard,” said Merelle Spino. She grew up in the area, moved away but was drawn back. “It's all about family. All my family is here, my grandchildren are here and this is where I want to be."

Spino thinks the new plans will make the area even better and she has some ideas about what she'd like to see move into the neighborhood. "Some nice restaurants instead of a lot of big chains, or some locally-owned (restaurants with) really good Cajun/Creole food."

Parish officials are on the same page with plans to bring small neighborhood businesses to residential areas like bakeries, bookstores and coffee shops.

The St. Bernard Parish Department of Community Development, in partnership with Waggoner and Ball Architects, this week announced The Old Arabi Revitalization Plan. It is part of the parish’s long-term recovery efforts for the neighborhood, which includes streetscape improvements on St. Claude Ave. and future improvements in the neighborhood.

"I like that. I like locally owned businesses. I like to keep my money in the parish like so many of us do,” Spino said. “Katrina hit this area really hard. It's starting to come back now. We need those mom and pop shops and we need to support them."

Also in the works: new landscaping, a new neutral ground at Lebeau and a riverfront plaza.

Planners point out the many attractive features of the neighborhood, including its proximity to the Mississippi River, as well as local wetlands, and the Chalmette Battlefield; proximity to Chalmette and New Orleans neighborhoods; the historic character of the neighborhood; “burgeoning arts-based, cultural, and education
institutions”; and affordable home prices, vacant lots, and large vacant buildings.

“Beyond its advantageous location, one of Old Arabi’s greatest assets is its urban fabric,” the architects and planners write in their report, pointing to “the relationship between its streets, and buildings, between private spaces and public areas, and between neighborhood and nearby assets.”

There has been an influx of development in the area in recent years including the $20 million Maumus Science Center and Planetarium, the restored First Ward Courthouse and Jail (now the Sugar Museum); and the 40 Arpent Brewery.

The first phase of a streetscape improvement project has already begun, including changes to the
neutral ground that include trees, lighting, and plantings.

A growing arts community also shows promise with Studio Inferno and Studio Arabi developing an arts scene.

While the planning is just in the beginning stages now, Spino is excited to see these ideas come to fruition.
“When I was a kid we grew up going to Canal Street on Saturdays and just go window shopping. And I miss that. I think New Orleans needs to go back to that. Keep things more simple."

The Department of Community Development will schedule a neighborhood meeting in the near future to discuss the plan with residents.