As Deutsches Haus prepares for this year's annual Oktoberfest in Kenner, the new director of the New Orleans-based German cultural organization says she has her eye set on the longer-term goal of returning to Mid-City.
Marketing executive Theresa Crosby was chosen as the first-ever executive director of Deutsches Haus last month and will oversee the organization's regular operations. She said part of that includes using the increasingly popular Oktoberfest festival as a fundraising platform for the organization's new home at 1700 Moss St. in Mid-City.
"Now that we're making a profit ... we need to step up fundraising," Crosby said. "That way, our dream of returning home to New Orleans becomes a reality."
Crosby, who previously served on the board of Habitat for Humanity and was co-founder of Dress for Success New Orleans, said the opening of new Deutsches Haus on Moss Street is slated for 2017 — if the fundraising goal is achieved.
"She's got the right amount of marketing, sales, fundraising and nonprofit experience to help us move forward and raise the millions we need to build our 'New Haus,'" Keith Oldendorf, president of the Deutsches Haus Board of Directors, said in a statement about Crosby's hiring.
The Mid-City Deutsches Haus location was approved by city officials in the summer of 2014 (despite a brief question by city planners as to whether the design by architectural firm Mathes Brierre was "too Germanic"). The 16,000-square-foot facility will include a multipurpose room and classrooms, and extensive site work will include renovated sidewalks, new landscaping and 200 parking spaces, according to the application. The Moss Street site, which once housed the NOPD 3rd District station, remains a vacant lot for now, but city permits show that an application to permit new construction there was being reviewed by inspectors as recently as September.
Following Hurricane Katrina, the organization rebuilt its former site at 200 S. Galvez St. in time for Oktoberfest 2006. Shortly afterward, however, construction plans for the University Medical Center forced the Deutsches Haus to find a new home. Its temporary site for the past six years has been on Ridgewood Drive in Metairie.
According to the film This Haus of Memories (2012) directed by Dr. Justin Nystrom, a professor of history at Loyola University of New Orleans, Deutsches Haus had been located on its original Galvez Street site in Mid-City for about 80 years before Katrina and the levee breaches hit the city.
Nystrom said the location of a permanent home for the organization was a big topic when he made the film a few years ago.
"One of the big questions that they had was 'Is Deutsches Haus going to remain in New Orleans proper or is it going to end up in Jefferson Parish?' which is where they are temporarily located now," Nystrom said, noting that it provided the organization's members a central location to meet. "It was important to them that they return to Mid-City not just for historical reasons, but because it truly was central."
Steve Mardon, president of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, said neighbors near the proposed site are excited about the new facility.
"As far as I know, most residents support the construction and are looking forward to it opening," Mardon said.
Nystrom said the new facility also shows Deutsches Haus' dedication to redeveloping the city.
"I think it's great for the city because it shows that there is a little diversity to the gentrification," Nystrom said.
In the meantime, Kenner will host the festival for the fourth time, Crosby said.
"The City of Kenner is simply our gracious host town of our largest event, till we return to New Orleans," she said.
The festival is held each Friday and Saturday from Oct. 9 through Oct. 24. The festival will open at 6 p.m., with the tradition of Kenner Mayor Michael S. Yenni tapping the first beer keg.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, an Oktoberfest 5K run/walk will start at 5 p.m., and the annual Dachshund Dash, a wiener dog race, begins at 3:45 p.m. Oct. 24.
Each day of the festival will feature German-style food, music, 16 different German beers and a kids' area with arts and grafts, games, storytelling, puppet shows and face painting.
German music performances include Yodel-Blitz (featuring yodeling and polka dancing), Das Ist Lustig, The Brats, Prost, Dixie Hofkapelle and Der Guten Tag Hop Cloppers. New additions to the entertainment lineup include the 610 Stompers and Disco Amigos. St. James Cheese Company Uptown and ASAP Pretzels are new to the food vending lineup.
The festival is 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays during the festival's three weekends. Admission is $6. For more information, visit www.oktoberfestnola.com.
Nystrom said each year he looks forward the great atmosphere of the festival, but personally is excited about the organization's return to New Orleans with a new building on the banks of Bayou St. John.
"It's a great location," Nystrom said. "I can't think of a more beautiful place for a biergarten."