Kenner’s Butch Duhe Playground will stop offering traditional recreational sports programs, and municipal officials can start renting the facility to private groups that want to hold athletics competitions or practices there, the Kenner City Council decided Thursday.
The change was proposed after participation in youth sports at Duhe fell steadily over recent years, dropping from 363 youths in 2003 to 43 last year, Kenner Parks and Recreation Department Director Ken Marroccoli said.
Of those 43 participants in basketball, football, volleyball, cheerleading, softball and baseball programs, only 31 actually lived in Duhe’s neighborhood, just east of Louis Armstrong International Airport, Marroccoli said.
“Traditional programs at Duhe have not worked, and this is our effort to get families doing family activities at a Kenner facility on a consistent basis,” said City Councilman Dominick Impastato, who sponsored the measure authorizing the playground’s switch, which was approved 5-1.
Children who played sports at Duhe are welcome to participate in programs offered at the city’s other playgrounds, officials said.
Rules that once dictated where children must play based on their home addresses were dropped last year when the City Council approved legislation allowing Kenner to convert traditional playgrounds into “sports academies” that could be rented out to private clubs and leagues.
That legislation allowed the city to enter into more arrangements like the one it has with a fee-based soccer club that leases the city-owned Sal Plaia Playground for practices and games while also handling the complex’s maintenance.
But Marroccoli said Kenner will remain responsible for maintaining the Duhe sports academy as the city sees how many private groups may be interested in paying to rent the facility’s field space and gymnasium.
Marroccoli added that Kenner also will organize and host its own youth sports tournaments at Duhe. “People shouldn’t think that the only thing we want to do is make money renting the place,” he said.
Kenner officials said one of the main reasons for the decline in youth sports participation at Duhe and other city playgrounds is the popularity of traveling ball clubs and school-based teams.
Marroccoli said Thursday’s vote makes it possible for Duhe to be rented by well-heeled travel teams in need of a new spot for practices or home games, which would draw players and parents from across the area to Kenner. Those players, their opponents and their parents might spend money at Kenner businesses, he said.
Marroccoli said that would complement what Kenner tried to do when — as part of last year’s legislation — it changed its regulations to permit children from outside the city to participate in municipal playgrounds’ sports programs.
Nonetheless, Thursday’s measure did face some opposition.
Marilyn Swanson, a Duhe supervisor, urged residents on Facebook to tell council members to leave the playground alone so the neighborhood would have a place to keep children “off the street and occupied and out of trouble.”
Councilman Gregory Carroll, who voted against Impastato’s measure, said he had talked to a number of residents who considered Duhe a special feature of their neighborhood.
But other council members said the statistics did not justify preserving the status quo. Only about 11 families with children participating in sports at Duhe showed up at two public meetings held in February to discuss the playground’s future, Impastato said.
Only one audience member at Thursday’s council meeting spoke against the change.
Kenner in theory can now use Duhe to start and run the kind of elite, traveling sports teams that charge players expensive fees. But Marroccoli said Kenner has no such plans at the moment.