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Merrill Hoopengardner Speaks at Grand Opening of New Orleans Pythian Building

Written By: NTCIC

On Friday, May 12, 2017, NTCIC celebrated the Grand Opening of its 8th New Orleans tax credit project, The Pythian, in downtown New Orleans. President Merrill Hoopengardner represented NTCIC as one of the project’s financial partners and provided remarks at the celebration, sharing how proud NTCIC is to have been part of a project so intricately woven into the cultural fabric of the city of New Orleans.
Other featured speakers included members of the project’s development team, financial partners, the New Orleans city council, local activists, historians, as well as the first Pythian resident. Music was also provided by the Samuel J Green Charter School Marching Band.

More About The Pythian Building
The Colored Knights of Pythias erected the building, originally known as the Pythian Temple in 1909 and it quickly became a nexus of business and cultural activity for New Orleans African American community. In the 1940s, the Pythian became a wartime hiring office for Andrew Jackson Higgins, who built the Higgins boats that President Eisenhower famously said “won the war”. In the late 1990s, the building began falling into disrepair.

Green Coast Principal and Co-Founder Will Bradshaw, whose company co-developed the project with ERG Enterprises and Crescent City Community Land Trust, points out that downtown New Orleans has significantly rebounded in the past few years with restored theaters—the Orpheum and the Saenger—the University Medical Center and the recently announced $5 million renovation of Duncan Plaza. He says returning the Pythian to its past glory has been a rewarding and humbling experience.

“When you consider that the Colored Knights of Pythias managed to build it during the height of segregation, it becomes an honor and a responsibility to renovate such a landmark property,” says Bradshaw. “It’s a magnificent building and we have restored many of its architectural elements, but more importantly, we wanted to restore its community spirit. And one way of accomplishing that is having the community living here.”
Bradshaw is referring to the 69 apartments within the multi-use Pythian Building, which will also include retail space, a public market, health care and office space. With a 98 percent occupancy rate and increase in the number of downtown workers, it’s been nearly impossible to find housing, but the additional Pythian apartments will allow people to work and live downtown.

Many community-transforming, catalytic projects like the Pythian can only be achieved through federal incentives. They bridge the gap between what banks will lend and actual costs. Part of the building’s financing was secured through the New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) program and the federal Historic Tax Credits (HTC).

Merrill Hoopengardner, President of the National Trust Community Investment Corporation says the Pythian’s redevelopment goals in addressing multiple community needs made it very appealing to support.

 “As one of two New Markets Tax Credit sources on this effort, we are pleased to have helped finance this magnificent project by making available $6 million in below market rate loans to the Pythian,” says Hoopengardner. “We are also pleased that the project could benefit from approximately $5.6 million in federal HTCs. The Pythian is NTCIC’s 8th tax credit project in New Orleans; others include the iconic Saenger Theater, the Maritime Building, the Hibernia Building, the Saint Hotel, the Aloft New Orleans and Strand Apartments and The New Orleans Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue.”

The centrally located Pythian Building will enable people to walk to work, use the Loyola Avenue streetcar, or bike. The building also offers the city’s first bike wash, and Bradshaw says its this kind of detail that the co-developers wanted in the renovated Pythian.

“The Pythian is more than a historic building,” Bradshaw says. “It’s a living testament to New Orleans and a vision for our shared future, blending downtown living with suite of businesses offering food, nightlife, health and wellness music and more. Plus, it’s just steps away for residents to take advantage of world class restaurants, professional sports teams and entertainment.”

In addition to housing, the community will have access to a public market providing fresh food offerings in a USDA Food Desert, providing job incubation for small and medium-sized vendors, and access to a Federal Qualified Health Center all within steps of their homes.
The building itself is an extraordinary building that will create a space in the city with the same vision of what it was during the Jim Crowe era of racial segregation. It will become a beacon of hope again for the African American community. The building is being developed in a way that is sensitive to the history of the building and hopes to add a new chapter to its significance.