City Park CEO
GREG MILES PHOTOGRAPH
Bob Becker presides over a vast domain. As CEO of City Park, the former city planner manages 1,300 acres of public land and all the accompanying facilities frequented by New Orleanians year-round: from Tad Gormley Stadium and the Great Lawn to City Putt and, starting next year, the Louisiana Children’s Museum. As a civilian he sets a good example, making daily trips to the dog park with his golden retriever and otherwise traversing the grounds on his bicycle. “There’s beauty in this park all over the place,” says Becker. “That’s what’s so wonderful about it.”
Q: What sort of recreation do you enjoy? I don’t get to play much, but when I do get a chance I like golf. I like bowling. I grew up in New York State, and bowling was big. I’ve always liked to bowl. I like riding my bike. I think I can go to all parts of the park that way. It’s something that’s really healthy for you and gets you outside.
Q: What goes into the upkeep of City Park? How do you keep it growing and not shrinking? The park has a very difficult funding platform. We have to raise 90 percent of our operating revenue through activities we do in the park. We receive no operating support from the state general fund or city general fund, which is very unusual. Most public parks receive substantial taxpayer funding. We don’t get that. The only public funding we get is from people who play slot machines at the racetracks in the state and at the Fairgrounds. We get a share of the tax that those generate. But that only makes up 10 percent revenue of the operating cost of the park, so we have learned to become very entrepreneurial. That is expected of us by the city and the state. We’ve been actively involved in fundraising. We support a large food and beverage and catering operation in the park, which generates money.
We’ve continued operating an amusement park, which generates revenue. We have one of the premier Christmas programs in the entire state, Celebration in the Oaks. It’s a big fundraiser for us. We raised about 15 percent of all the money that we have in the entire year during the 31 days of Celebration in the Oaks.
Q: Why do you think City Park is a good place for the Children’s Museum? What prompted the move? Back in 2004 and ’05, we redid the master plan for this park. Providing cultural programs and cultural experiences is one of the park’s four major missions. We thought one way to accomplish this is to get another museum in the park. We have the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Botanical Garden and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. We reached out to the Children’s Museum to see if they were interested. They were.
One of their main reasons for relocating and coming into City Park is to take advantage of the outdoor space. Downtown, they don’t have any outdoor space. Coming to the park, they not only have play areas outside, they can have things like edible gardens and lagoons that they can do programming about wetlands and water conservation and management.
There’s a huge variety of lessons that can be taught because they’re in a natural environment.
Q: Outside of the park, what’s your favorite part of the city? I really like driving or walking to many of the older neighborhoods. I think they’re so fascinating, architecturally so. I like to spend time in neighborhoods that I might not normally go to. I also like going out onto Lake Pontchartrain with my wife and my dog and walking along the lakefront.
Q: With your background in city planning, what do you foresee for New Orleans? I think it’s exciting that so many young people have moved into the city and so many new professions have come into the city. I think there’s a tremendous energy there that I don’t think the city experienced before. I had something to do with the planning of the downtown area when I was planning director, and it’s really gratifying all the people who have moved into the Warehouse District and how that area has developed.
Q: What’s your favorite thing blooming in the park? I love the wildflowers. A couple of years ago, we started a program with our horticultural staff where we plant wildflowers and groom wildflowers in the park. There’s nothing more beautiful than nature coming up at different times of year – purples, reds, pinks and yellows that come from the flowers. That’s so special. That’s the reason why people go to a park – and why they go to a big park. They get to experience things that they can’t in small neighborhood parks.
I spent a fair amount of time on the island of New Guinea doing research for my dissertation on a new community being built. New Guinea isn’t the island paradise most people think you’d go visit.
at a glance
Profession: CEO of City Park Resides: Lake Vista Born/raised: Buffalo, New York Family/pets: Patricia, wife of 46 years, four children, five grandchildren, one golden retriever, Abby Education: Masters in City Planning from University of Iowa; Ph.D. from UNO Recently read: The Year of Voting Dangerously by Maureen Dowd Favorite TV show: “Antiques Roadshow” Favorite food: Oysters and shrimp Favorite restaurant: Commander’s Palace Hobby: Gardening