A story that might prove to be one of the year’s most important has not gotten the attention it deserves. We’re talking about the proposal to redevelop the area in the vicinity of the Superdome into a Jazz district and park.
That part of town has been the target of ambitious planning before. The current civic center, which includes City Hall and the Civil Court building, was a 1950s vision of the future, back when postwar attitudes did not have much sentiment for the past. Unfortunately, the boxy buildings never aroused much sentiment and seemed out of place for the seat of government in a city known for its exquisite colonial architecture.
If the plan does all it is supposed to do, both the civic complex and the New Orleans Centre shopping area will be razed, and in their place will be a 20-acre park and a National Jazz Center. The park complex would also provide a tailgate party parking area for the Superdome. In a city where the football team is named after a jazz song, the combination of jazz and football could be melodious.
SPEAKING OUTCity Hall, we suspect, will relocate to one of the barely filled high-rise buildings along Poydras, most likely the Dominion Tower, formerly known as CNG; the Hyatt Hotel, whose owners are pushing and partially backing the idea, will be the center of an inspired urban hub,
If this happens, finally New Orleans will have done something meaningful with Jazz. Nashville has already provided an example with its downtown revival. There, an ultra-modern Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is the keystone for a complex that includes an arena (NHL and concerts), a new symphony hall, an atrium-centered Hilton and a football stadium (NFL) within walking distance. In the center is a park-like green space for doing green space type things. The complex is on the edge of the city’s old town, as ours would be.
Truth is, what was originally developed within the dome’s neighborhood never worked the way it should, and the area has the potential to be so much better. Strategic Hotels & Resorts, the company that owns the building that the Hyatt manages, is based in Chicago, which has seen the success of Chicago’s Millennium Park. We can learn from other cities – plus, we have the history and culture that can make our development much more interesting.
We know much can go wrong. Funding is always the major issue and the public side does not have much to offer. Early estimates fix the project’s cost at $716 million. Strategic Hotels’ willingness to invest is an encouraging first step (the complex may even be known as the Hyatt Jazz Center) but as with any major development project, a patchwork of funding sources will be needed.
There is the question of what happens to Armstrong Park, which was also supposed to be a Jazz park.
Still, this project is worth taking seriously. It may save our sports franchises as well as our jazz heritage; more importantly it could create new activity, energy and jobs in a part of town that needs more of all three.
More than ever, New Orleans needs to be thinking big. We also need to be thinking responsibly. This proposal is a good place to begin speaking out.