Leaders Pursue 'Cultural Center Complex' In Louis Armstrong Park

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration will ask developers this year for proposals on how to redevelop five vacant buildings in Louis Armstrong Park — a rehab that, if realized, would breathe new life into a part of Treme plagued by decades of abandoned proposals and far more debate than action.

         Officials outlined their intentions for the buildings, which preservationists consider to be architecturally and historically significant, at a community meeting, the second session in recent months.

         The city is asking residents to help develop a formal request for proposals for the project, which officials estimate will cost between $10 and $15 million.

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         City officials say they have no money to renovate the deteriorating buildings themselves.

         "We think there is this opportunity now because of the development that has gone on at every corner in the Treme and Lafitte communities," Cedric Grant, Landrieu's top adviser on infrastructure and capital projects, told residents.

         Targeted buildings include the partially renovated Perseverance Hall, a 4,428-square-foot former Masonic lodge built in 1820, and an adjacent caretaker's residence, built around the same time. WWOZ Radio occupied the caretaker's building from 1984 to 2005, when it moved to the French Market. The building has been vacant since then.

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         Perseverance Hall's first floor is in relatively good shape and has been used for children's activities and other events.

         Also included are the Rabassa-De Pouilly House, a 2,668-square-foot Creole cottage that once was home to celebrated St. Louis Cathedral architect J.N.B. de Pouilly; the 3,429-square-foot Reimann House, a former fire station built in the 1880s; and the 2,120-square-foot Breezeway Building, a non-historic structure used to provide access to and from the Reimann House and Perseverance Hall.

         The city's Municipal Auditorium, unused since Hurricane Katrina, will not be included in the redevelopment request, officials said, because that building is eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster money. The nearby Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts reopened with the help of FEMA money in 2009.

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         If developers agree to take on the project, city leaders' longtime vision for a "cultural center complex" surrounding the Municipal Auditorium and Congo Square — first proposed in 1930 but repeatedly scuttled by funding troubles and lack of political will — may finally be achieved.

         Former Mayor Marc Morial was the last to try to redevelop the area, giving a rent-free, 99-year lease on the five buildings to the National Park Service in 1999. That agency budgeted $3 million to turn the buildings and the 4 acres of land they sit on into the headquarters of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, an idea Congress had authorized five years earlier.

         But unexpected renovation expenses, reduced annual funding and finally Hurricane Katrina kept the Park Service from realizing its plan, and it has since focused its efforts along the river edge of the French Quarter.

         The agency is seeking to end its lease, but for now it is still the property's manager, said Kristy Wallisch, a Park Service spokeswoman.

         "Our current goal is the same as everyone else's: to do what's best for Armstrong Park and the people of New Orleans," she said.

         Before Morial, Mayor Sidney Barthelemy raised $3 million in federal funds to turn the park into a recreation park and amusement center, but the plans were scrapped to make way for a temporary Harrah's Casino gambling hall at the Municipal Auditorium.

         Before him, Mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial also sought out a private developer for the park, but the City Council and a 10-member committee refused to back those who applied.

         The original 1930 plan for the area was scuttled for lack of financing.

         Residents and activists have decried the repeated delays.

         If residents get their way, the city could ask developers to convert the buildings into a jazz club, a civil rights museum and a cultural arts venue with rehearsal space for theater, dance and music performers, among other suggested options.

         – by AP/ Reporter Jessica Williams with The New Orleans Advocate

         For more information



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