First Good Step for Municipal Auditorium and Armstrong Park

Photo Source: Danae Columbus

Treme culture bearers applaud Council for approving CZO text amendment; plan survey and community meetings to seek public input.

After the New Orleans City Council unanimously approved a text amendment to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance to create a new designation for City Hall, the Save Our Soul coalition hailed it as a good first step in the process to determine the future of the Municipal Auditorium and the rest of Armstrong Park.

“Today’s motion was a good first step but the real deal is what to do with Congo Square, Armstrong Park and the Municipal Auditorium. They must be dedicated to cultural use only. City Hall and Armstrong Park are really two separate issues. They should never have gone together,” said attorney Dow Edwards who represents the Timbuktu Warriors, a member of the SOS coalition.

Now that the Council has established a clear process for City Hall, SOS is ready to move forward on the revitalization and renovation of Armstrong Park and the auditorium.

“The City of New Orleans has not been a good steward of the Municipal Auditorium. We cannot afford to wait another 16 years for the building to be repaired,” he said.

The auditorium desperately needs a new roof and has dozens of broken windows. “The building should be stabilized and sealed now. It’s hurricane season so this work must be done before more damage occurs. The Municipal Auditorium has been a cultural icon since the 1920s and 1930s.”

SOS is working with Councilmember Palmer on additional legislation to tighten the park’s zoning. Current city rules allow for municipal buildings to be constructed within parks as long as the buildings are ancillary to the purpose of the park, such as a concession stand by a baseball diamond, explained Dow.

“Armstrong Park is in fact a cultural park.”  Any ancillary buildings should work with that purpose rather than being a seat of government. “We need to make the legislation more clear. There should be no exception. The current intended purpose of the legislation is too broad in this case.”

SOS is also not pleased that Cantrell has chosen to shift the burden to them to come up with a plan to “fully fund” the Park and auditorium. “We can’t do that for multiple reasons,” he said.  SOS does not have the legal authority or funding to issue requests to potential developers.

“We would like to work with developers.” But, what developers would want to spend their time and money working on a project on behalf of a community group that does not have the authority to eventually hire them?

Dow paused to reflect on Audubon Park and City Park. While both were built on public lands and intended to be self sufficient, they are “heavily dependent” on public sector funding, especially for capital improvements.

“By design they are public-private partnerships run by third parties, private groups,” he said.

SOS is about to begin a public comment process. A survey is being drafted that will be available online for citizens to complete. A series of public meetings are being scheduled at Craig School in late July and early August.

Mayor Cantrell hired the firm Woodward Design to prepare the RFP and RFQ. Inside the site analysis Dow said, was a question that asked whether or not the City Hall complex would fit the cultural purpose of Armstrong Park. “It’s an appropriate question that was never answered. It’s a no-brainer- a resounding no. It would not fit there. If the question had been answered maybe Mayor Cantrell would not have spent all that time on trying to make it work,” Dow concluded.

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