City Park is looking at acquiring 17 acres of land next year — the first acreage to be added to the park in 80 years.
City Park officials have been eyeing neighboring land left vacant after the 2011 demolition of the former John F. Kennedy Senior High School on Wisner Boulevard.
Kennedy was built after Hurricane Betsy in the 1960s, on a piece of land the Orleans Parish School Board purchased from City Park.
The Recovery School District initially controlled the land after Katrina but returned ownership to the OPSB several years ago.
Bob Becker, City Park’s CEO, said he’ll soon ask the School Board to give City Park a year to put together the money to purchase the property and — after years of talk — incorporate it back into the park.
“It’s a huge opportunity, and we want to get some time to put together a financing package,” Becker said.
The park’s board of directors has had consistent interest in purchasing the land, though a specific use for it hasn’t been decided yet, Becker said.
Like City Park, the site is zoned as "open space regional," which allows community centers, amusement opportunities and general park space. It was originally zoned with the intention to reunite it with the park in the future, Becker added.
Leigh Morgan Thorpe, a City Park board member, asked at a board meeting if any other organizations are interested in the land, thus leading to a possible bidding competition.
Because the land could be used for recreation and amusement, it would have value to private companies, Becker said. However, City Park has made clear to the OPSB for years that it wants eventually to regain the land.
Steve Pettus, the park board's president, said the OPSB will also consider whether there is a commonality of interests between the board and the land’s new owner. Taking care of the children of New Orleans — whether through educational programs in the Botanical Gardens or safe athletic fields — is a common mission between the OPSB and City Park.
“It’s beyond the dollars; it’s how we provide a service,” Pettus said.
City Park officials are working on their request and plan to approach the OPSB in the near future. The board will ask for a yearlong contract to put together a financing package, and will vote on the possible acquisition sometime next year.