10 years after Katrina, man looks to revive Lower Ninth Ward

NEW ORLEANS -- Believe it or not, the Lower Ninth Ward was once a thriving neighborhood. There were plenty of houses, but like the porch steps that now remain, the last 10 years have led nowhere.

But there is hope and his name is Burnell Cotlon.

"I'm just an average guy with above average dreams -- and my dream was to make my neighborhood look like the rest of the city," said Burnell.

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Where a house stood before Hurricane Katrina, only steps remain in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward CBS News

Burnell was the first to rebuild on his block. But about a year ago he did something braver still. Right in the center of a desolate landscape, he took an old apartment building -- tore off the roof -- and hung a new shingle -- "now open."

Burnell built the Lower Ninth Ward Market -- the only business of any kind in the immediate neighborhood. Not even his mother Lillie thought it was a smart idea.

"There was nothing, nothing in the entire area," said Lillie. "There wasn't even a good street light out there."

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Burnell Cotlon CBS News

But Burnell felt like he had no choice.

"The large box stores say they're not coming back because there's not enough people and the people that want to come back say they're not coming back because there's no stores," said Burnell. "What came first the chicken or the egg? Somebody still has to do something."

Burnell had saved $80,000, mostly from a 10 year stint in the army. He and his wife, Keasha, were hoping to retire on that money.

"It cost me everything," said Burnell. "It cost me my whole life savings."

He may never make his money back, but he still smiles like a rich man. In addition to the groceries, the market also serves as a gathering place. Kids come after school. Burnell's mom serves them snowball treats.

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Kids enter the Lower Ninth Ward Market CBS News

The place has become the heartbeat of the neighborhood. And for that reason, Burnell says he has no regrets. In fact, he wants to add a laundromat -- maybe even a skating rink. The guy has become a one-man planning board.

"I'm going to keep on going," he said. "I'm not going to let nothing or nobody stop me."

Certainly if hell and high water didn't, he's not going to let a few weeds get in his way.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.