In 2011, Alembic purchased the former Myrtle Banks School, a vacant historic property on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in Central City, New Orleans, to preserve and rehabilitate the rapidly deteriorating building. Following a two-year pre-development process and 15-month reconstruction, Alembic reopened the repurposed school in 2015 as an affordable grocery store, a shared office space for nonprofits and small businesses, and a nonprofit art gallery. The Myrtle Banks building received a 2015 Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation from the Louisiana Landmarks Society; a 2015 Historic Rehabilitation Award for Financial Innovation from the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits; and an Alliant Build America Award from the Associated General Contractors of America.
Dryades Public Market offers a full-service grocery with fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, hot and cold prepared foods, dry goods and a café space for customers. Meanwhile, the office space is home to approximately 25 nonprofit organizations, small businesses and individuals, including KIPP New Orleans Schools, Arts Council of New Orleans, Vera Institute of Justice, Youth Run NOLA, Urban Conservancy, Stay Local, and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children.
Built in 1910 as the Robert C. Davey School, and then later renamed the McDonogh #38 School, the school was renamed in the 1980s in honor of Myrtle Rosabella Banks, the first African-American woman school principal in the New Orleans public school system. Its restoration has contributed to the revitalization of OC Haley Boulevard, a vibrant commercial thoroughfare that was a center of commerce for African-Americans, Italians, Irish, Jews and other diverse New Orleanians into the 1960s. The adaptive reuse effort included a complete rehabilitation of the building, including a demolition and preservation process that left just the four exterior walls standing while preserving a substantial portion of the original wooden windows, wooden roof brackets and interior cast iron columns, interior historic masonry and other architectural elements.
The $13.8 million redevelopment was financed with New Markets Tax Credits, State of Louisiana and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, loans from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and State of Louisiana Office of Community Development, and other sources. The City of New Orleans also provided financing to Dryades Public Market through its Fresh Food Retailer Initiative to address fresh food access in underserved areas.