NEW ORLEANS -- A local eyesore will soon be transformed into a culinary model for the rest of the country.
It happened when a team of big companies, a medical school, the mayor's office, and others, all came together with a vision.
It's been seven years in the planning, and Thursday was step one towards the creation of jobs and the revitalization of a iconic property, blighted since Hurricane Katrina.
"ReFresh, the name of the project, is very important because we decided to focus on the health and well-being of people in these neighborhoods. And this project is going to be very key to that," said Lisa Amoss, president of the community group, Broad Community Connection.
By the new year, the old Schweggmann Brothers' grocery store on Broad Street will become a food and cooking hub. Inside will be a Whole Foods Market retail grocery.
"We think we will be employing 80 to 100 additional people at this store. So we're going to help create jobs," said Mark "Flash" Dixon, regional president of Whole Foods Southeast, to a clapping audience.
The non-profit Liberty's Kitchen, which teaches at-risk youth, culinary training and life-skills, will also have space.
"One thing I would definitely like to say about Liberty's Kitchen, is that it is definitely a motivation for a lot of young, black people in the state of Louisiana. And it also gives a lot of youth, a lot of hope and some type of challenge to face in life, to let them know that, at the end of the day, you don't always have to go through a challenge, but it's up to you to make that happen and go on with your life," said Larry Rankins, a Liberty's Kitchen student who will soon graduate from the program.
Also in the renovated building will be a first of its kind in the country. Tulane medical students with have a center for culinary medicine. Classes have already started at a temporary site for future doctors to learn how to help patients with the important connection between healthful food and a healthy body.
"The secret is that most physicians, including me, know absolutely nothing about nutrition," said Dr. Benjamin Sachs, a senior vice-president and dean of the Tulane School of Medicine. "Unless we do something to stop this epidemic (of diabetes and heart disease), we're never going to tackle the health care issues in our country."
Developers are now hoping this project will be duplicated around the country.
The kitchen for the medical students will also be open to the public with free demonstrations and cooking classes. Doctors will also use it for research.
The opening is planned for January 2014.
A few months before opening, Whole Foods jobs will be posted online at www.wholefoodsmarket.com under Careers link. Residents in the immediate community surrounding the store, are encouraged to apply.