by Kevin Allman
Geez! Everyone in town seems to be a little touchy about the construction pit that is the entrance to Armstrong Park in the Treme, and now Mayor Mitch Landrieu is throwing another punch at his predecessor, Ray Nagin, over the decrepitude. Blake Pontchartrain told the story in a March column:
Armstrong Park is indeed a mess. And it began in the waning days of former Mayor Ray Nagin's administration.
Near the end of his term, the former mayor decided the park needed a facelift. Before he left office, Nagin unveiled the park's new Roots of Music Sculpture Garden — but a series of construction blunders caused damage to the statue of Louis Armstrong, and the park had to be closed.
Last July, crews employed by the original contractor, AME Disaster Recovery Services, cracked part of the Louis Armstrong statue, separating the left shoe from the statue's base. After he took office, Mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered the contractor hired by Nagin to stop work, and the park was closed for the rest of the summer.
The original contractor created more problems when crews poured concrete pathways incorrectly. These had to be ripped out and repoured — twice. Workers who were careless with tractors also managed to damage curbing and other sculptures in the park. A light pole was knocked down as well as a 50-foot palm tree. Water pipes were broken and buried power and phone lines were cut.
The destruction has been in place 10 months — which made it all the more bizarre yesterday when Nagin took to his Twitter account to offer a photographic tour of the park ... with pictures taken from the dedication of the sculpture garden, before it all had to be ripped out. "Some tried to say the park was F-up," he wrote.
Today District C councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer, whose district includes Armstrong Park, joined the fray, giving the Landrieu administration a little public nudge:
Tomorrow also marks Mayor Landrieu's "State of the City" address. The Mayor has chosen the Mahalia Jackson Theater, located in Armstrong Park, as the location for this important speech, but sadly Armstrong Park will not be opened. Regardless of the ongoing construction delays, parts of Armstrong Park should be opened to serve as a public recreational area and also as a throughway for pedestrians and cyclists commuting between neighborhoods. ... I greatly appreciate the mayor's recognition of the importance of this park through his choice of venue. It is evident that he appreciates the value of this place, and we are extremely grateful. I urge and request the Administration to open the sections of Armstrong Park that are not undergoing repairs."
Gambit asked the mayor's office if there was any timetable for reopening the park, and received this response, attributed to Landrieu, late tonight:
Armstrong Park is just another example of a deal the previous administration improperly executed. It was ill-conceived and was fraught with problems from the outset. Since July 2010, we have been unraveling a bad and unconventional deal and have been engaged in legal wrangling with A.M.E. and American Contractors Indemnity Company since we kicked A.M.E off the job for causing serious damage to the park and to the statue of Louis Armstrong. We, like the citizens of New Orleans, are outraged that it has taken 10 months to bring this to a resolution.
Finally, we have an agreement in place with the surety that ensures that the park will be restored this year at no additional cost to the taxpayers of New Orleans. Additionally, we have been working for some time to reopen other portions of the park to the public and plan to make an announcement in the coming days.
Landrieu will be delivering his annual "State of the City" address at 10 a.m. April 28 from the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Armstrong Park, the beautiful performance space which opened in 2009 ... and the front steps of which overlook the park's current vista of chainlink fence, concrete, rubble and dirt.