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How a Golf Course Is Reshaping a New Orleans Neighborhood

It all began with an email.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in August 2005, Charlie Yates Jr. — an Atlanta philanthropist and an executive at the time for Zurich Insurance Group, title sponsor of the PGA Tour stop in New Orleans — reached out to Mike Rodrigue, a former tournament chairman of the Zurich Classic. Yates invited Rodrigue to bring a group to see the urban revitalization project nested next to East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, the home course for Bobby Jones, the first golfer to complete golf’s Grand Slam, in 1930.

A few months later, Rodrigue toured East Lake’s surrounding community with Gerry Barousse Jr., a real estate developer and banker, and Gary Solomon, a venture capitalist. They marveled at the effort, which was spearheaded by Tom Cousins, a real estate developer who built the CNN Center and helped bring N.B.A. and N.H.L. teams to Atlanta.

In 1995, Cousins bought East Lake Golf Club out of receivership and established the East Lake Foundation. He partnered with the City of Atlanta to raze East Lake Meadows, a troubled 650-unit public housing complex, and build the Villages of East Lake, a mixed-income community. A charter school, a Y.M.C.A. and a nine-hole public golf course soon followed.

Photo

Columbia Parc has 685 mixed-income residential units, including a senior living center.

Credit
Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

Proceeds from hosting the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club are funneled back to the foundation for community programs. The effect on the neighborhood can be measured in a drastic reduction in crime, high employment rates, and improved academic scores and high school graduation rates.

On the trip home to New Orleans, Rodrigue’s group debated whether the East Lake model could be replicated in New Orleans.

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