Bucktown harbor was once a hub for commercial and recreational fishermen. But since Hurricane Katrina 13 years ago, the Jefferson Parish harbor next to where the 17th Street Canal meets Lake Pontchartrain has become a little-used space.
There are still slips for boats, but with the exception of the red-roofed Coast Guard station, the more than 30 acres of land goes largely unused and ignored.
Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken wants to change that. A new report that she helped commission envisions Bucktown harbor as an outdoor recreation center with a boardwalk, a concerts area, trails and open spaces.
The 61-page report calls itself a starting point for conversation about the future of the harbor, but at least one part of its vision — a $1.8 million boardwalk around an area of marshland on the southwest side of the harbor area — is already in design. Van Vrancken said it could be under construction next year.
The space has been an afterthought for too long, she said.
"Most people don't even know that there's anything over there besides the Coast Guard station," she said. "We've been leasing the land from the state since 1999."
The report sought to collect as much community input as possible, Van Vrancken said.
The consultants said they collected almost 1,000 surveys and another 11,000 comments as well as holding public meetings attended by 140 people.
The report recommends creating an area that could be considered a "community front porch."
Survey respondents said they want to see the land used for open recreational areas including walking and biking, and as natural habitat. The water areas, they said, should be used for a fishing pier, an enhanced marina and space for "hand-powered" boating such as kayaking or paddleboarding.
But the ever-present question remains: funding. To do everything in the report would cost millions of dollars.
Van Vrancken said some parish recreational millage money could be used for the site, but that won't fund the millions of dollars in improvements the report envisions.
Parish leaders will seek grant funds — as they have for the boardwalk, which is being funded in part by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Council district improvement funds also could be contributed to the projects.
Lakefront areas have received renewed attention in Jefferson Parish. Earlier this summer, Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn announced he was talking with a Las Vegas-based company about developing the city's lakefront area near the Treasure Chest Casino. They have discussed creating high-end condominiums, restaurants and a possible sports betting parlor.
Van Vrancken said Bucktown would be different from the plans in Kenner.
"It's all recreational and outdoors," she said of the Bucktown plan. "I just look at the site, and I see so much potential."
Editor's Note: This story was changed on Aug. 14, 2018, to reflect that part of the funding for the boardwalk is coming from a grant from the EPA, not from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.