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Fly-ing off the handle 

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New sports fields are a great thing ... but open green space is a great thing, too.

The Fly — the grassy area overlooking the Mississippi River in Audubon Park — is one of New Orleans' iconic public spaces. It's what's not there that makes it special: no buildings, just grass, water, the sky and any leisure you care to bring to it. New Orleanians love visiting the Fly to walk, play games, picnic, fly kites, read, dream or just relax.

  The Fly is overseen by the Audubon Commission and the Carrollton Boosters. At a public commission meeting last April, the two entities decided to build out a new youth sports complex on a large portion of the Fly abutting the river. There already are soccer fields and baseball diamonds there, but what the Boosters planned was a large, modern sports complex with locker rooms and concessions in service of youth soccer, football, kickball and other sports.

  A small bathroom structure and the current playground would have to be demolished (though the Boosters planned to build a new play spot), and the popular sculptural pavilion on the site would be put in storage. Proponents of the project (which include Audubon Institute head Ron Forman and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees) point out that New Orleans' young people need more dedicated outdoor sports facilities. They noted the $4 million renovation will be entirely funded by private donations.

  All this, however, would be built on what is arguably the most prime land on the Fly: the grassy area in the center, adjacent to Riverview Drive — which now is used by picnickers, readers and other fans of passive recreation.

  These plans flew under the radar for more than six months — until our reporting partner Robert Morris of Uptown Messenger wrote about it in January. Then all hell broke loose.

  Though the project seemed a fait accompli, a group called Save the Fly launched a petition drive that has gathered more than 9,000 signatures, urging the Audubon Commission to reconsider. The Carrollton/Riverbend Neighborhood Association has expressed concern over the project. A "Save the Fly" protest was held one Sunday. The New Orleans City Council held a meeting in mid-February to give the Audubon Commission and Carrollton Boosters a forum in which to further explain — and give the public a forum to sound off. A week after the meeting, both sides said the project was on hold pending more discussions.

  So where does the project stand now? John Payne, a Carrollton Boosters volunteer who has shepherded the project, says he'll meet with designers to see if a compromise can be forged. "We've spent a lot of time listening to people's views on this," Payne said, adding that a final plan might be ready by the end of the month. He added that the beneficiaries of the project — kids — are out playing soccer or football, not necessarily organizing on Facebook or going before City Council.

  New sports fields are a great thing, and the Carrollton Boosters should be commended for their efforts. But open green space is a great thing, too. We hope a compromise can be found that will satisfy both goals, but if that's not possible the park should err on the side of green space.

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