For John Hopper, City Park’s chief development officer, the changes that abound on this 1,300-acre expanse are more than figures and facts: these changes will affect every pair of feet that walk onto the grounds and contribute to the park’s more than five million visits per year. The Master Plan, created prior to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s decimation of the park and surrounding land, and revamped in the wake of it, calls for $137 million of changes and additions to be completed by 2018, the year our fair city turns a spritely 300 years old.
“We certainly have our work cut out for us,” he says. “To date we’ve raised or had pledged $74 million. So we’re better than halfway.”
As Hopper spreads out a colorful rendering on his desk of what City Park will be in eight years, it’s clear that the word daunting doesn’t even begin to describe the formidable task ahead of him and his staff, plus the thousands of unpaid volunteers. Some of the changes have already taken place.
“Right now, there’s a lot going on. The Big Lake area was dedicated in the fall, and there’s been a good response.
We’re hoping to get the 26 tennis courts – 16 hard and 10 clay courts – finished by the end of this year.
“The Goldring Woldenberg Great Lawn is already getting a lot of use,” Hopper continues. “People are really liking these huge industrial swings.”
Hopper is hoping this grand expanse of open space will be to City Park what The Butterfly (“The Fly”) has become to the Uptown area: Users can tan, read, play some ball and just relax, intermittently seeking refuge from a blazing sun on one of the “swing arbors” or the Main Arbor that surround it.
Extensive landscaping has already taken place. More than 50 Medejool Date palms, $60,000 worth of landscaping and lighting galore make this three-acre expanse a standout – not to mention its five pools.
The Great Lawn stretches across what has come to be known as Tri-Centennial Place, a regal concept incorporating new parking, an expansion of the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, an amphitheater, a splash park, rock climbing and Peristyle. Although in its infancy, Tri-Centennial Place will be another huge draw for the park. The splash park and amphitheater, viewed as large revenue streams, are included in Phase One of the $24 million Capitol Campaign of the Master Plan.
There are many more projects on the way, and with that comes more needed funding. “On Wisner Boulevard, there will be a new fishing pier – hopefully by the end of this year,” Hopper says. “There will also be a new entrance to Couterie Forrest. And we’re hoping to break ground on the new festival grounds. That’s a $4 million project alone “
Opening this month is the highly anticipated NOLA City Bark, a beautifully landscaped 4.6-acre fenced-in dog park, and the first of its kind in the Greater New Orleans area. The leash-less park has separate play areas for big and little dogs, a wading pool, shade pavilions and water fountains for pups and their humans.
“The entryway really has a pop to it,” he says. “It’s as much about the people as it is the dogs: There’s a dog wash station; a nice trail through the park; and we changed the topography of the park to include rolling hills.”
In addition to all of the exciting and more obvious changes taking place, there are many more subtle ones that make an even bigger difference. The park lost a substantial percentage of its canopy when it was ostensibly a basin for collected water and accumulated wind damage. To date, there has been a net gain of 2,000 trees – they’ve replanted what was lost and then some.
“Two of my sweet spots are the forest and the trees in general,” Hopper says. “We’re not just repairing the park: We’re building a better one. We just planted an additional 850 trees.”
All of this is undoubtedly impressive, but perhaps more so when you think of the park’s staff numbers. Manhattan’s Central Park, though only three-quarters the size of City Park at 843 acres, has 275 full-time employees. City Park has 84 full-time employees. To be fair, the park sees nearly 25,000 volunteers a year, and they rely heavily on seasonal workers. But for day-to-day operations, they are, as Hopper puts it, “lean and mean.”
Perhaps one of the largest changes to the skeleton of City Park will be the addition of a skate park and skate facility, something that was part of the Master Plan prior to Katrina but has only recently gained momentum. George Brown and Chloe Woods of skateNOLA are its biggest supporters, and are working closely with the park to raise the necessary funds to see their dream of a skate park come to fruition.
“They already had everything, they just needed someone to set everything in motion,” Brown says. “Tulane City Center came up with the three-phase plan that City Park adopted. Our role is to promote the skate park.”
“Humidity Skateboards and some of the Big Easy Rollergirls are involved,” Woods continues. “And now they too (the Rollergirls) have a facility on the Master Plan. It’s going to be a great way to cross over these two historically gender-oriented sports.”
“We want this to be a regional draw,” Brown says. “Already a lot of professional skaters come here, despite the fact that the closest facility is an hour-and-a-half away. We want this design to be as good as it can be, and we think it fits in well with the Master Plan: There’s something for everyone.”
Right now, like many of City Park’s design initiatives, building the skate facility is simply a question of further funding. “The community and everyone we’ve spoken to is very supportive,” Woods says. “It’s great to see the kids excited, and they know that we are doing something for them. We’ve been doing a lot of grant research and working with grant writers to procure the funds.”
There will be a fundraiser for skateNOLA and the skate park on Saturday, March 5 at the Hi-Ho Lounge (see box), and beginning March 1 supporters can go online to www.pepsi.com and vote for skateNOLA’s proposal; if it wins, Pepsi will give the nonprofit $250,000 toward the skate park facility.