Palmer Sees Eye to Eye With Treme Residents and Slows Process Down

Photo Courtesy of Danae Columbus

The announcement by City Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer yesterday that she was slowing down the process of moving City Hall to the Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park was a clear indication that the voices of Treme residents and other culture bearers will finally be heard. The press conference was attended by more than a dozen members of the Save Our Soul coalition.

Palmer, the current District C councilmember who is seeking an At-Large City Council seat in the fall elections, filed Motion 21-228 to create the Protect Treme Interim Zoning District that will be heard today by the Council. If approved, it would place a temporary hold on any development of new government facilities in the park until a community process takes place. The motion also requires that the proposed move be approved by the entire Council. 

The interim zoning district would prohibit the Department of Safety and Permits from allowing developers to construct government buildings, parking lots or parking garages within Louis Armstrong Park for one year or until the Council votes to remove the measure. Under the interim zoning district, the City Planning Commission would also be required to have a public hearing before any new developments move forward at the site.

“The residents of Treme have been left out of the decision to move City Hall to Armstrong Park, said Palmer. “A project of this size will have a huge impact on the future of Treme. The people who live here have to be at the table.”

Mayor Cantrell began looking at relocating City Hall to the Municipal Auditorium for several years, in part because federal FEMA allocated $38 million to refurbish the historic structure after Hurricane Katrina. Despite more than 15 years having passed, the renovation never took place. 

New Orleans’ antiquated City Hall requires millions of dollars in repair annually. Civil District Court is also seeking a replacement building. Cantrell is looking at the hard reality of having to find a new home for city government but opposition to Armstrong Park as the option has continued to grow. Treme residents do not think they are responsible for helping Cantrell find a more suitable location to relocate City Hall. It is the mayor’s responsibility to do that, opponents say. 

Cantrell recently signaled that she would temporarily shelve the process until after the election. Cantrell also warned that if work did not begin quickly on the Municipal Auditorium site that FEMA funding would be lost. Residents were not impressed by her declaration. They believe that the funds will only be lost if the City fails to submit a viable request about their future plans. Congressman Troy Carter, an early supporter of the need for a thorough public process, could be asked to work with FEMA on an extension.  

“Saying we either move City Hall into the Auditorium or lose FEMA dollars is a false choice,” said Palmer. “The people of Treme understand that the 2023 deadline to use our FEMA funding has to be taken seriously. But trying to force through a development that the community doesn’t want is just wasting time. The faster we get through an open community process, the faster we’ll have a plan for the Municipal Auditorium. 

Though Cantrell’s revised position on a timeline for the project probably placated opponents outside the Treme and French Quarter neighborhoods, it had no impact on the residents directly impacted by the project. The residents of Treme have been fighting for equity for their neighborhood ever since the area was first targeted for redevelopment as blighted property. The destruction of the city’s Black business community along Claiborne Avenue only added fuel to the fire. Though some believed the construction of Armstrong Park would soothe hard feelings, the lack of respect for the historical connection between Congo Square and New Orleans slave history only made matters worse.  

Treme residents are united in their belief that any application submitted to FEMA must include using the Municipal Auditorium as a cultural center. Treme residents have been trying to meet with Mayor Cantrell publicly in the City Council Chambers for months. She has continued to avoid those meetings. Treme culture bearers and others are not going to stop advocating for their right to be heard. “The shear breadth and stealth with which the administration has moved the mayor’s agenda is suffocating and downright oppressive,” said Jarrett Cohen, president of the Historic Faubourg Treme Association.   

“The citizens of Treme have been engaged for years about Armstrong Park. They know what’s best,” said Palmer. There has been “an outpouring of suggestions and ideas” that are a reflection of the public process that should take place in the coming months.    

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