Regardless of who wins the New Orleans mayor’s race this month, it appears the next city administration will push for some sort of development on wharves near the French Quarter that the city plans to integrate into a riverfront park.
Following a forum on Monday night, runoff opponents LaToya Cantrell and Desiree Charbonnet both expressed an interest in seeing something built on the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves, though each said the details of what that would entail would have to be worked out later.
Depending on what is proposed, such a development could potentially draw opposition from French Quarter and perhaps Faubourg Marigny residential groups and preservationists.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration is in the process of gaining control of the two wharves, now owned by the Port of New Orleans, in exchange for the city-owned Public Belt Railroad.
Landrieu has said the wharves will be turned into a park connecting Crescent Park in Marigny and Bywater with the Moonwalk and Woldenberg Riverfront Park in the Quarter, creating a 3.2-mile park stretching from near the Industrial Canal to Spanish Plaza.
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But the Landrieu administration also has raised the possibility the wharves could become more than just park space by proposing the creation of an economic development district that could cover that entire stretch of the east bank riverfront. Such a district would allow the city to boost sales tax rates in that area, a move that would pay off only if there were developments to tax.
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Charbonnet alluded to those potential revenues during Monday’s forum, suggesting that they, along with money the city will receive from the World Trade Center redevelopment, could be put to use funding city priorities.
When asked after the forum about what kind of development she envisions, Charbonnet said she has heard discussions of an amphitheater and suggested it would be good to get other ideas for how best to use the riverfront, which she described as a “front door for the city.”
“When you ask people to be creative, you can come up with some interesting and new designs,” she said.
Charbonnet said she would not support any project that would block the view of the river.
Cantrell said she also would support some kind of development on the riverfront, suggesting that the specifics would have to be worked out after “engaging the neighborhoods that live around there.” But, she said, it would be necessary to build something — possibly an entertainment venue or mixed-use development — in order to generate money from the site because “parks don’t generate any revenue.”
Whatever is built “would definitely be an asset for public use and public benefit,” she said.
Cantrell referenced various studies already done on using properties on or near the river, particularly the 2008 "Reinventing the Crescent" study that set the stage for both Crescent Park and the overall 3.2-mile park.
That study assumed the Gov. Nicholls and Esplanade wharves would continue to be owned by the port and used for commerce and thus did not lay out a specific redevelopment proposal for them.
Recognizing that development of the riverfront could be “very contentious,” Cantrell said the process should make sure that “people tied to it feel like they won.”
Landrieu administration officials have said there will be public meetings to discuss the use of the wharves after the City Council gives final approval to the property swap.
Some neighborhood groups in the area are already gearing up to play an active role in those discussions.
Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, said that any development there could raise concerns about parking and traffic and that an outdoor entertainment venue could cause noise concerns.
Music and traffic from outdoor festivals held throughout the city already generate complaints in various neighborhoods, and Lousteau noted that a riverfront performance space would be used year-round and not just a few weekends a year.
“Any development could have profound effects on these vitally important neighborhoods, and we think it’s vital that neighbors be a part of this important process,” she said.