Packing the Park

Each year around this time, New Orleanians by the thousands pour into City Park for Celebration in the Oaks, a rite of the holiday season now marking its 25th anniversary. But as the park itself presses ahead with its Hurricane Katrina recovery and capital improvement plan, its leaders are adding more features and attractions that are intended to draw people into the park year-round and also generate more revenue to keep the 1,300-acre park running.

One of the most important additions to that second category is the Arbor Room, a newly built events hall located near Popp Fountain, just lakeside of Interstate 610.

“We’re providing a service that’s in demand as a rental space and we’re not shy or bashful about telling people that we also need to raise money,” says John Hopper, the park’s chief development officer.

Unlike most other public parks funded by government bodies, City Park must raise about 80 percent of its own revenue each year.

The Arbor Room is comparable in size to the park’s other popular event rental space, the Pavilion of the Two Sisters in the Botanical Gardens, and it is designed to take advantage of some 10 acres of park grounds around it.

It’s also part of a raft of attractions breathing new life into a previously under-used part of the park. NOLA City Bark, a gated dog park, opened last year nearby, and the larger, redeveloped City Park/Pepsi Tennis Center is now situated in the same area. Meanwhile     a nearby soccer pavilion for youth leagues is expected to open by year’s end not far away on Marconi Boulevard.

More attractions that balance outdoor activity with park revenue are on the way, including a new mini golf center expected to open in 2012 adjacent to the Storyland amusement park.

“It’s part fun and in line with our mission of recreation, but it will also generate revenue for us,” Hopper says.

Another example is the new festival grounds now in the works, a 50-acre site located behind the Christian Brothers Academy that will feature a mile-long walking path.

“We’ll be able to host festivals there, but 90 percent of the time it will be open to the public,” Hopper says.


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