While Treme Community Leaders Demand Mayor Cancel RFQ, Councilmembers Moreno and Glapion Announce Public Process & Final Council Approval

Photo courtesy of Danae Columbus

Members of the Save Our Soul Coalition said Monday that Mayor LaToya Cantrell should immediately call off the still-outstanding RFQ for a new City Hall at the Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park. Though Mayor Cantrell has said she is postponing all discussion on the proposed relocation until after the fall elections, proponents doubt her sincerity.

Today, Councilmembers Helena Moreno and Donna Glapion pre-filed legislation announcing their intent to require any relocation of City Hall to go through a “conditional use” process with mandatory Council approval.

The motion by Moreno and Glapion will be heard at the Council’s July 15 meeting. If approved, it would create a text amendment to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) making any relocation subject to the same process used for other land-use decisions.

“For our citizens, our city employees, our neighborhoods, and our future, we must have a holistic and inclusive approach to building a new seat of government,” said Moreno who serves as President of the City Council. Their motion would set in place checks and balances that would give the community greater control of the process.

“Major decisions impacting the future of communities and government cannot be made lightly and must always consider if existing disparities will be worsened,” said Councilmember Glapion.

Tuesday’s announcement by Moreno and Glapion was another step forward for Treme residents and their allies who have been struggling for months to get Cantrell to establish authentic and inclusive communications with Treme residents whose families have suffered for more than 50 years by the creation of public policies that did not consider the impact to their community.

Cantrell issued a statement on June 18 that mischaracterized the July 17 protest rally and march as “a part of the engagement process” of city government.  Though thousands of New Orleanians from across the city took part in the protest, neither Cantrell nor any of her staff attended. “Opponents of the relocation called the event “a grassroots base community protest of the city’s continuing failure to engage stakeholders and the community at large and not an element of a city government community engagement process.”

Opponents also say that Cantrell continues to mislead stakeholders and the community at large by claiming she is amenable to scaling back her plan or finding an alternative location. Opponents also do not agree with suggestions by the Cantrell administration that FEMA funds due to the city for Katrina damage to the Municipal Auditorium must be used to move City Hall to Armstrong Park or that the FEMA funds may be lost. Instead, opponents assert that any FEMA funds for repair of the Auditorium are tied to the building itself and its pre-disaster uses.

The RFQ is seeking professionals to plan, design and engineer the relocation into the auditorium as well as to manage the construction of multi-story parking garages and additional buildings which would “tower over nearby historic homes” and cast “ominous shadows” on any remaining green space.

“So long as the City of New Orleans is actively soliciting submissions of qualifications from architects and engineers for a new City Hall at the Municipal Auditorium… there is no evidence to support any suggestion that Mayor Cantrell has scaled back her outrageous plan to desecrate the sacred ground of Congo Square,” said Luther Gray, founder and president of the Congo Square Preservation Society and a member of the SOS Coalition.

“Mayor Cantrell can give meaning to her words by cancelling the outstanding RFQ so that it is consistent with her recent public statements,” said Cheryl Austin, executive director of the Greater Treme Consortium and a member of the SOS Coalition.

The coalition is also calling for Mayor Cantrell to immediately commence mitigation measures to stop further damage and deterioration to the historic auditorium, which has continued throughout her years on the council and as mayor. “There is no excuse for city government’s failure of responsible stewardship of some of our community’s most treasured cultural infrastructure,” said Ausettua Amor Amenkum, co-chair of the SOS coalition.

A poll conducted by the Historic Faubourg Treme Association found that 80 percent of 225 respondents opposed any plan to relocate City Hall to Armstrong Park; only 10 percent of the respondents supported Mayor Cantrell’s ideas. A recent Gambit Weekly on-line survey found only six percent of respondents supported Mayor Cantrell’s plan. More than 15,000 people have already signed an online petition opposing the relocation.

“The historic Morris F.X. Jeff Municipal Auditorium must be restored and preserved for its original and historic uses – community, cultural, arts, athletic and scholarly events, exhibitions, performances and programs. The historic boundaries of Congo Square must be respected as sacred ground with profound spiritual meaning not just for New Orleanians, but people of across the African diaspora. And Louis Armstrong Park must remain an appropriate memorial to one of New Orleans most important native sons and most consequential pioneers of America’s only original art form – Jazz,” said SOS in a prepared statement.

In a recent letter to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Wynton Marsalis, chairman of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, explained the depth of the foundation’s disappointment over the proposed relocation. “These plans would have destroyed the vision promised to Lucille Armstrong when she approved the city’s request to create a permanent tribute to her husband, Louis Armstrong. The construction of administrative buildings not only disrespects Louis Armstrong Park but also further erodes the significance of Congo Square, the place where during slavery, African drumming and dance traditions were allowed to thrive. The music that evolved in Congo Square became the foundation of all American music form jazz to rock & roll to hip hop. We…are adding our voices to that of the people of Treme – No City Hall in Louis Armstrong Park. We stand in solidarity with the best interests of the people, as Pops, our namesake, always did.”


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