The city of New Orleans will add steel panels to the doors, windows and air conditioning units at the Municipal Auditorium in an effort to keep out squatters, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office said Monday.
The action follows complaints from nearby residents led by Leo Watermeier, who for several weeks has sent out a stream of public emails complaining that the 1930 building was threatened by homeless people living in it and that the city was not doing enough to protect it.
An email Friday, backed up by photos, proclaimed: "Squatters Going In and Out at Will. Doors Wide Open."
The physical upgrades to the building’s security will be supplemented with 24-hour security details at the end of April, the city said.
At the same time, the city expects to enter into arbitration with FEMA to determine how much the federal disaster agency should pay for damage the auditorium suffered during Hurricane Katrina.
The auditorium, shuttered since the storm, is the last major outstanding claim the city has against FEMA from the flood.
Watermeier sent out his most recent email Monday morning. It ended:
"Seven years into his term, it is totally unacceptable that Landrieu has let one of the jewels of New Orleans rot and decay like this.
"Mayor Landrieu, Fix the Auditorium Before It’s Lost Forever."
Last week, WVUE ran a report after talking to squatters who were using generators inside the building, something Watermeier said is of particular concern to residents who worry the historic structure could catch fire.
According to the WVUE report, dozens of people have been taking shelter in the building after pulling down the wooden panels the city used to board it up.
Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park will remain in limbo at least a while longer, as New …
That will change starting Tuesday, when the city will begin installing steel panels on doors and other openings, a process that is expected to take until the end of April, according to the city. Once that’s complete, a 24-hour security detail will be stationed there to prevent further trespassing, according to a news release.
Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with arbitration over the cost of repairing the nearly 8,000-seat building, which for many decades was used for Mardi Gras balls, concerts and countless other events.
City officials have been negotiating with FEMA for years over the cost to repair the building, eventually moving the agency up from the $7 million it originally offered to $41.7 million. But that’s still only about half of the $80 million city officials say is needed to fully restore the structure.
At the end of February, FEMA issued a "final determination" letter on the project, a long-sought step that allows New Orleans to formally contest the figure. Last week, the city requested to go into arbitration over the amount it is owed.
Once arbitration is complete, the city plans to conduct a market study to come up with a new use for the site and redevelop it.
Officials have said the redevelopment will likely be a public-private partnership based on the process used to find developers for the St. Roch Market and the World Trade Center building.