Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- A major development for the Lower Ninth Ward is officially underway. A non-profit agency plans to build the area's first health center since Katrina.

Dion Gray has lived in the Lower Ninth Ward for over 30 years. Since Hurricane Katrina, the lack of services in the neighborhood has been tough, she said.

'After Katrina, it's still a slow process,' Gray said .

That's why Gray was thrilled to learn a primary care medical center will be built near her home. It will be the first in the area since Katrina.

The New Orleans Baptist Ministries signed closing documents Friday to acquire the necessary land to launch the non-profit Christ Community Health Services

'To be able to be a part of providing a needed service in the Lower Ninth Ward is a great thing,' said Jack Hunter, director of New Orleans Baptist Ministries. 'That it will be possibly an economic engine in that community is something that brings us great happiness as well.'

The empty lots on St. Claude Avenue between Tennessee and Reynes streets are part of the former Holy Cross School site, which has been vacant since Katrina. Holy Cross donated them to the cause and Baptist Ministries hopes to acquire two more lots on the block.

Baptist Ministries also purchased three acres nearby, which served as the former baseball field. If the health clinic is successful, officials plan to expand it to that site.

'We may need to have a larger footprint to move our vision forward,' Hunter said.

The Holy Cross School, which has since relocated to Gentilly, has been working to sell its former site for years. It's a major step in bringing the area back, officials said.

'It was important not only for Holy Cross School but for me personally that the neighborhood was taken care of. It's very meaningful,' said Charles DiGange, headmaster of Holy Cross School and Ninth Ward native. 'I think it will encourage more people to come back to the neighborhood, redevelop their home, build new homes, because there are going to be some services there to benefit the community.'

Meanwhile, some neighbors are concerned new development could bring new problems.

'It's great to see some life come back, but at the same time the reason we live here is because it's quiet,' Eddie Payne said. 'It's going to be loud, constructions going to be going on, and traffic.'

But those like Gray say new life, and vital services, are exactly what the neighborhood needs. Gray said she's not concerned about traffic.

'Having a medical center right here in the Lower Ninth Ward, it will be so wonderful,' Gray said. 'A lot of people will appreciate something like that. Having a primary, a family doctor here, that would be great.'

Officials hope to begin building the health center in the fall. Baptist Ministries hopes to eventually offer preventative care and dental services as well.

Meanwhile, Holy Cross School is still working to sell about 12 acres of its former site. Officials said previous talks to develop a grocery store fell through due to financing. But DiGange said Holy Cross is in serious negotiations with other developers.

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