- Associated Press - Monday, January 20, 2014

ARABI, La. (AP) - Drivers making their way down St. Claude Avenue might not see it yet, but changes are coming to St. Bernard Parish.

Some of it’s starting inside what used to be an Arabi movie theater.

Glass artist Mitchell Gaudet is on the front line of Old Arabi’s revitalization.

Gaudet has done it before. In 1991, he started Studio Inferno in the nearby Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. As the neighborhood grew in popularity, his property taxes ballooned from $3,000 to $15,000, so he started looking for something new.

He’s converting the building into a fine art studio to display his glass work, and there’s also plenty of room for studio space.

“It was kind of like the initial reception I got in the Bywater,” he said. “Very positive. Everybody’s very excited. Arabi is very hungry for development.”

The area was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and much of St. Bernard’s population initially was slow to return.

But that’s changing and it is entrepreneurs making it happen. There’s also a yoga studio, and Old Arabi Eats is a restaurant attracting a lot of buzz.

“There’s a lot of things going on that I think will make it more attractive to come through here,” said St. Bernard Parish Councilman Ray Lauga.

Lauga wants to change the look of St. Claude Avenue. Plans are in place to use part of a $3 million grant to beautify the sidewalks and medians.

“It’s exciting. I think it draws a lot of interest, a lot of curiously, a lot of foot traffic into the area.”

And the new businesses are helping the old. Debbie Smith’s family has owned the Arabi Food Store since the ‘70s. She’s happy to see the Maumus Science Center going up across the street.

“It’s all good. Five miles from the French Quarter and there’s a lot to see and do here,” Smith said.

For Gaudet, he thinks Old Arabi is poised to be a new hot spot.

“It has a connotation, St. Bernard Parish, that it’s quickly shedding. They’re putting money in the right places. There’s a lot of interest in developing St. Claude.

Gaudet plans on having his new studio space up and running later this year.

The parish hopes to complete some of the beautification along St. Claude in time for the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans next January at the Chalmette Battlefield.

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Information from: WWL-TV, https://wwltv.com

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