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Theater of Government

We support the idea of relocating New Orleans’ City Hall to the abandoned Municipal Auditorium. The suggestion has been around for a while, but has recently gotten new push from the support of the Cantrell administration, which has $41 million in FEMA money dedicated to the building’s post-Katrina repair. That makes the discussion serious.

New Orleans’ current City Hall (built in the late 1950s) though modern in design, has never been a totally successful nor beloved building. It was constructed in the post-war era when the nation, made brash by its successes, was in a mindset to unleash the future. The quaint, historic, architecturally significant city that so many people loved, and whose design heritage was reflected in the previous seat of government, the Greek Revival style Gallier Hall, a stately building that was more appropriate to the city.

Beyond its appearance, City Hall has often had repair problems (bets could have been taken on successful elevator rides) but its most notable offense these days is that its Loyola at Poydras Avenues location takes up space on what could be an incredibly lucrative plot of land. Located next to the Superdome and the Arena, and adjacent to the business district, sale of the location could be a windfall for the city.

Meanwhile, the Municipal Auditorium sits empty as it has since Katrina. Opened in 1930, the building had a glorious history as a performance space and the site for Carnival balls. Those days are gone. There is already a glut of theaters downtown, so much so that there is still not a plan for the long closed Lowe’s theater. There has been no better location for Carnival balls, including ample promenade space and sight lines, than the auditorium. Carnival alone, however, cannot provide the revenue to support the building.

Converting the auditorium into City Hall would take creative design, but that is why the Almighty gave the world architects. We see that every day with former warehouses and office buildings now having been transformed into other uses including boutique hotels and condominiums projects. Those conversions in turn bring new people living in the area and enliven neighborhoods that were once dormant after office hours. The new City Hall could enhance opportunities for Rampart Street and bring more activity to Armstrong Park.

At its best, the converted building could not fill all of the city’s space needs, but that is already the case with the current City Hall, as many public offices are located in nearby buildings. 

A proper seat of government should always be surrounded by green spaces as a place where citizens can gather, be heard, or just relax in the shade of democracy. The auditorium building can provide that.

We think the city administration is looking in the right direction. Done right, the relocated City Hall could strengthen two neighborhoods; the one it left and the one it moved to. Seldom can public projects claim such a complete victory.


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