Save Our Soul (SOS) Schedules Three Meetings To Receive Public Input

The SOS coalition, the Treme stakeholders and others opposing the City Administration’s efforts to relocate City Hall to the Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park, will host three public engagement meetings to gather ideas and input from citizens.

On Monday, July 26, SOS is teaming up with the grassroots group Justice & Beyond to present Chronicling History and Creating An Equitable Cultural Economy, starting at 5 p.m. on Zoom. The meeting will be co-hosted by Cheryl Austin, Greater Treme Consortium, and Jackie Harris, Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. Speakers include Kara Olidge PhD., Amistad Research Center, culturalist Dow Edwards, actor Harry Shearer, performing artist Ausettua Amor Amenkum, culturalist Sean Martin, representing social aid and pleasure clubs, and culturalist Luther Gray who will speak on the importance of Congo Square.

On Tuesday, July 27 and Wednesday, July 28, two in-person community engagement sessions will be held at Homer Plessy/Craig Charter School, 1423 St. Philip Street in Treme. The meetings begin at 5:30 p.m. and conclude at 8 p.m. They are open to the public and will be livestreamed on SOS’s Facebook page. Masks are required. 

All elected officials are invited to participate including Congressman Troy Carter, Mayor Cantrell and members of the City Council.

Mayor Cantrell and her key staff met privately with SOS and other Treme stakeholders last Tuesday, July 20, regarding the proposed relocation. At the meeting she told those gathered that she was “good” with the Municipal Auditorium not being converted to a new City Hall, but placed the burden on SOS to determine how to fund, operate and maintain the iconic structure.  

Cantrell gave SOS a ninety-day time line to present a fully-funded plan. Some stakeholders believe that Cantrell was employing a bait-and-switch technique knowing full well it would be simply impossible for SOS to meet the 90-day goal. Of course the City has spent years trying to revive the Jazzland site and decades on Lincoln Beach’s possible future. Neither of those projects had millions of public dollars a mayor could tap into.

Cantrell also told SOS that no public resources were available to assist them. But in fact, Cantrell’s assertion might not be accurate. Armstrong Park is currently operated by the City’s Park and Parkways Commission. In coordination with the Audubon Institute, NORDC and City Park, Park and Parkways is participating in a first-ever long-term plan for the city’s park system. 

A $433,800 federal grant is supporting the twelve-month cooperative planning effort and will allow the consortium to hire consultants. Treme stakeholders are asking that Armstrong Park be included in the green spaces to be studied.

Armstrong Park is a cultural park unlike any other. Visitors flock to New Orleans to soak up our music, food and culture. Ideally located at the edge of the French Quarter and blessed with parking, the Armstrong Park complex could become a premiere destination for tourists if a well-thought-out plan and adequate funding were in place. With support from the Biden Administration, the Department of the Interior might want to participate. 

The great parks that are successful in New Orleans operate with their own board and receive significant public and private funding. These facilities were not built quickly; instead steady progress was made over decades by citizens committed to those green spaces. Perhaps Armstrong Park needs its own board that could regulate all the properties within its footprint.

Audubon Institute President and CEO Ron Forman tells the story that he was a mid-level employee at the City Planning Commission when a smart mayor sent him to the dilapidated Audubon Zoo with a mandate to build something better. Cantrell would be wise to use the same approach with Armstrong Park’s assets including the small historic structures on the site that also need a tremendous amount of rehabilitation. Other cities would swoon to preserve such cultural assets, but not New Orleans. The good bones are already there. They’re just waiting for some meat.           

SOS has created a survey for New Orleanians and lovers of Armstrong Park to complete. The survey is will be available now through Friday, August 6, 2021. Information from the survey will be used to determine future uses of the Municipal Auditorium and Louis Armstrong Park.  

SOS encourages everyone to participate this week in their survey and community meetings. Let your voices be heard.           

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