It is attracting development, transforming unsightly terrain and helping to knit together some of the city's most diverse and historic neighborhoods.
But the Lafitte Greenway, a linear park that runs from the edge of the French Quarter to near City Park, still has a long way to go before it becomes what planners envisioned — a shady urban Xanadu filled with bountiful gardens and fashionable amenities.
That's an ideal without an endowment, and like the growth of public parks historically, the development of the greenway is coming along in fits and starts, funded piecemeal through a variety of sources.
"I see what we have out there now as the backbone, a sort of great first phase that the city can build on," said Sarah Olivier, the New Orleans program manager for the Trust for Public Land, which helped the city acquire some of the property that makes up the greenway.
"It takes time to develop parks, and it takes a constituency of nonprofits and private citizens to help with the development. You can't just plant grown trees."
New Orleans Deputy Mayor Jeff Hebert acknowledges that the 2.6-mile trail is still pretty much an ongoing construction site, even though it officially opened 18 months ago and is used by an average of 750 people daily.
To date, the park's development has cost almost $13 million, most of which was covered by federal disaster grants awarded after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to providing start-up cash, the city manages the park and underwrites some of its capital improvements, including the planned transformation of an old brake tag station in Mid-City.
The Landrieu administration also plans to build new restrooms and a concessions space at Lemann Playground, where a vibrantly colored mural on the pool's exterior walls was recently completed to depict the history of the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Lemann Concessions building project previously came in over budget and is being redesigned for rebidding in the next three months; the old brake tag station along Lafitte Greenway is being designed and should go out for bid in December, a city spokeswoman said.
In addition, the National Recreation and Park Association plans to donate at least two playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment by late September.
"One reason we're so excited about the Lafitte Greenway is that it connects so many neighborhoods and communities," said Gina Mullins-Cohen, a vice president of the group.
The linear park runs along a defunct railroad line through the Treme, Mid-City, Bayou St. John and City Park areas. With more money and resolution of a railroad right-of-way issue, the city hopes to extend the greenway another half-mile through Lakeview to Canal Boulevard.
Even with the park still a work in progress, commercial and real estate interests are seeing the prospect of gold amid all that green.
New businesses are being planned, warehouses are being transformed, new residential construction is underway and lots of blighted properties are being rehabbed and flipped along the park and in adjacent neighborhoods.
The latest Real Estate Market Analysis from the University of New Orleans lists more than $100 million worth of projects along or near the greenway.
"The greenway is absolutely spurring development," said local businessman Billy Good, who lives near the park and uses it almost daily. "It's incredible how many people are out there. I am amazed."
Good and his wife, Angelle Crochet, developed Camp Bow Wow, a dog daycare and boarding facility, on the greenway last year. Now Good and his partners, Herb Dyer and Rusty White, hope to start construction in July on a bike-friendly, pet-friendly patio bar that is oriented not toward a street but toward the greenway trail near Toulouse Street at Bayou St. John.
Complete with bike racks, outdoor seating and utility hookups for three food trucks, the developers hope the bar will beckon to bikers and walkers on the trail.
"The greenway was the prime motivation for our development because I knew what 'rails to trails' were doing in other cities," Good said of the movement that started 30 years ago when the first idle railroad corridors in the Midwest were converted into public hiking trails. The concept morphed over time and went urban.
"I say buy all the property you can on the greenway," Good said.
For information about the park and its programs, visit lafittegreenway.org.
Editor's note: This story was updated May 18 to correct Gina Mullins-Cohen's title, and to clarify the status of planned projects at the Lemann Concession and the old city brake-tag station.