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Park Avenues 

City Park officials this week will weigh the merits of three proposed developments as part of the ongoing master planning process.

The board that oversees the management of City Park will meet this week to consider three major projects that could significantly alter the landscape and use of the 1,300-acre urban park. All three projects have supporters as well as detractors, and all three came after park officials adopted a 2005 master plan designed to chart City Park's future and give it a stable revenue base. The three projects include a major golf and athletic complex proposed by the Fore!Kids Foundation, a new home for the Louisiana Children's Museum, and a public television studio and children's music museum to be built by Louisiana Public Broadcasting/WLAE public television station and the Tipitina's Foundation.

The board will meet on Tuesday (Nov. 27) at 4 p.m. in the park's Pavilion of the Two Sisters to consider the proposals.

Of the three projects under consideration, the television station/kids' music museum appears to be the closest to implementation in terms of funding and scope.

Because the golf project involves the greatest change in the park's landscape, it would require altering the board's master plan and would take years to develop " at an estimated cost of $38 million for park improvements. The Fore!Kids proposal has received the most media attention and the most sharply divided public reaction.

The Children's Museum idea also has gotten mixed reviews, and plans for the museum don't appear to be final. Various reports peg its size at 12 to 35 acres, its total cost hasn't been published, and a funding source hasn't been revealed.

Supporters of the television studio/children's music museum note that their project would take up only 2 acres. Moreover, the state Legislature has already approved $15 million in bond funds for construction, and the project would take about two-and-a-half years to complete. The state owns Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB), which in turn owns half of local public television station WLAE. Willwoods Community, a Catholic faith-based organization, owns the other half-interest in the station.

The Fore!Kids Foundation, which promotes the annual Zurich Classic and golf-related events to raise money for children's charities, plans to join the Bayou District Foundation to renovate and overhaul the golfing facilities at City Park. The two entities would spend millions on golf course improvements and ultimately would try to lure the area's annual PGA tournament to City Park. That could be an ambitious goal given that Tournament Players Club, the current home of the Zurich Classic, was designed by renowned golf architect Pete Dye, completed just three years ago in 2004, and built specifically to host New Orleans' annual PGA event.

In exchange, Fore!Kids wants to manage all golf operations at the park.

Additionally, the Bayou District Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed earlier this year, would transform the currently shuttered St. Bernard Housing Project into a mixed-income rental complex with 900 apartment units and two charter public schools. The money generated from course management would be used for children's and educational programs at the new St. Bernard development and in City Park.

City Park's master plan calls for revamping the park's three golf courses, but the Fore!Kids proposal would amend the plan by replacing the three courses with two championship courses and a nine-hole executive course, a golf-teaching center for kids and other recreational facilities. While the Fore!Kids' idea would reduce the park's total acreage dedicated to golf " from 730 acres to 600 acres " it also would require City Park to forego some of the revenue generated by the golf courses, which previously helped finance other park operations. That may make the Fore!Kids proposal a difficult sell to board members.

Beth Courtney, president and CEO of LPB, says her group has already set aside some of its own funds to be used to draft building plans " to prove to the Louisiana Bond Commission that it is committed to the project. The commission must approve the sale of bonds to finance the proposal. LPB also pledges to contribute equipment to the studio, which has a final price tag of $18 million.

While WLAE and LPB have discussed relocating for years, a new studio didn't become an immediate need until Hurricane Katrina tore the roof off WLAE's temporary studios on North Causeway Boulevard in Metairie. WLAE's move to Metairie in 1999 was intended to be temporary while station officials sought a permanent new home. Before focusing on City Park, the station considered several alternatives, but nothing seemed to fit. Courtney says the station approached park officials after hearing that City Park was having financial difficulties in the wake of Katrina.

'Our thought was, where can we do no harm and help the park?" Courtney says.

She adds that the studio's suggested location, near the park's Roosevelt Mall and next to Tad Gormley Stadium, was the park's idea. When the City Park board approved its master plan in March 2005, board members designated 50 acres along Roosevelt Mall as a 'cultural" area. According to City Park CEO Bob Becker, the board's intent was to accommodate up to three cultural facilities there. Becker says the board adopted this part of the master plan because the park's size easily allows for it and because board members wanted to establish the size " 50 total acres " and the location of the cultural area all at once.

'I think the point of setting aside sites in a large urban park like this is a good one," Becker says. 'It's possible to accommodate cultural facilities."

Becker, however, says the park board didn't consider LPB/WLAE's initial offering " a studio only " as meeting its idea of a cultural facility. Park officials told the station to add other benefits that were more conducive to the park.

'And they came back with a museum, live broadcasting from the park and a theater," Becker says.

When Courtney and Ron Yager, vice president and general manager at WLAE, unveiled their proposal at a master plan public hearing in September, they introduced it as the Center for Educational Broadcasting and Cultural Development " City Park Studios. Under the latest proposal, the state would own the building and would lease the land from City Park. (City Park's board is a state agency, but the city owns much of the land.) The Louisiana Educational Television Authority (LETA) would operate the studios and LPB, WLAE and the Tipitina's Foundation would be participating entities.

The 35,000-square-foot building would include a Louisiana children's music museum, operated by Tipitina's; a 200-seat television studio for live broadcasts such as town hall meetings and concerts; an audio recording studio; and a 4-D (i.e., special effects) theater.

Yager says station and LPB officials envision the studio being used for live concerts similar to Austin City Limits, the long-running concert series broadcast on public television. He also expects local schools to take advantage of the building, touring the television studio to see how a TV station operates and visiting the children's music museum.

In an effort to make the public more aware of live broadcasts and other programming, Yager advocates putting kiosks throughout the park listing upcoming events. Although he admits that he knows of no other television station in a park setting, Yager says that's no reason to reject the idea. 'Why not be progressive?" Yager asks. 'Why not put something of a technological nature in the park that is friendly to the participants, that the public can make use of and take advantage of?"

In another setting, Steven Dominick might agree with Yager's reasoning. As an urban planner who has worked with a City Council-sponsored neighborhood planning process, Dominick is typically in favor of 'getting things done, which is building stuff." Post-Katrina New Orleans has become a testing ground of urban planning and innovation and this often includes development projects like this one. Dominick, an avid jogger who runs along the Roosevelt Mall, opposes the studio/museum project, however, saying there are some places that should remain untouched.

'I'm 38 years old and I've used the park my entire life," Dominick says. 'I'm concerned about the impact on the passive green space. Why can't you leave things alone sometimes?"

Dominick worked with the City Council-sponsored neighborhood planning process, which helped flood-damaged neighborhoods produce individual recovery plans. He says that during the many meetings he conducted with neighborhood groups, including the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization and the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, there was never any discussion about further developing the park. He says a television studio requires parking and would bring more automobile traffic to an area that is already heavily used by runners, walkers and others. He also questions why the studio has to be located in the park when the WYES public television station is nearby on Navarre Avenue.

'Where's the nexus between a park and a television station? There is none," Dominick says. 'To argue that a television station should be in the park, you have to show me the benefit that the station brings to the park. I don't see it."

Ultimately, it will be up to the City Park board to decide whether the studio proposal meets its criteria for a cultural facility.

After a public hearing in September, the park continued to accept public comment on all three proposals. While most of the letters concerned the impact of the Fore!Kids project, the letters that addressed the television studio debate were more or less evenly split, with a slight majority against the proposal.

Becker says he appreciates citizens' concerns about the proposals, and he says the meeting on Tuesday won't necessarily produce a final decision. The board could reject any proposal, approve any proposal, or request more information regarding any of the proposed projects, he says.

'The board has a lot of flexibility and appropriately so," Becker says.

click to enlarge The proposed site for a new WLAE/PBS television station is near Tad Gormley Stadium and would replace a softball diamond that currently is not being used. The proposed complex would cover about 2 acres, including a 35,000-square-foot building, and would cost approximately $18 million. - DAVID WINKLER-SCHMIT
  • David Winkler-Schmit
  • The proposed site for a new WLAE/PBS television station is near Tad Gormley Stadium and would replace a softball diamond that currently is not being used. The proposed complex would cover about 2 acres, including a 35,000-square-foot building, and would cost approximately $18 million.
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