Proposed $4 million sports complex at Audubon Park ‘Fly’ ignites differing opinions _lowres

Advocate staff photo by DELLA HASSELLE -- Members of Save The Fly held a protest and picnic on Feb. 14 to preserve the area Audubon Park.

According to a report by WWL-TV, the controversial project that would have built a soccer stadium at the Uptown 'Fly' near Audubon Park is dead for now, according to one of the project's main supporters.

John Payne, who designed the project, told WWL that the complex was “just too divisive an issue.”

Payne will return more than $4 million in donations to the project’s supporters, which include Drew Brees and Tom Benson, WWL reported.

The Carrollton Boosters, a nonprofit children’s sports group, intended to build a $4 million sports complex there, thanks to an agreement with the Audubon Commission, the public arm of the Audubon Nature Institute, and to donations from Tom and Gayle Benson, Brees’ family and Louisiana-based companies like Tabasco and Iberia Bank.

The proposed development, which has been referred to in city documents as the Benson & Brees Soccer Complex, would have accommodated soccer, football, kickball and lacrosse. It would include new restrooms, a concession stand, a new playground and $250,000 in landscaping, according to Audubon officials.

Audubon board and staff members, as well as supporters of the boosters club, had heralded the project as a way to expand sports opportunities for New Orleans children, providing a much-needed field for a growing organization that has served local children for more than 75 years.

Since the proposed development became public, however, it ignited protests from residents who denounce the project as turning over public land to a private, though nonprofit, organization, and who say too little of the green space by the river will be left for those who just want to meander by the river or picnic on the grass.

The project also came under scrutiny because of a potential conflict of interest brought to light by WWL-TV. Originally, part of the park's contract said managers should buy beer and wine from Crescent Crown and, "wherever possible,” to sell alcohol brands owned by Sazerac. Audubon Nature Institute board member Jeffrey Goldring is a part-owner of both contracted companies -- Crescent Crown and Sazerac Co -- and board member Paul Fine is a director of both companies.

The companies told WWL-TV that they haven't gained an unfair advantage over other companies.

Read the full WWL-TV report here.

More to come.