Over the next several months, a 2.6-mile corridor of land extending from the French Quarter to Mid-City is scheduled to morph into the Lafitte Greenway, a shady sanctuary and transportation hub, landscaped with walking and biking paths, ball parks and soccer fields.
Friends of Lafitte Corridor, the nonprofit group behind the extensive city project, announced last week that construction workers have begun work, marking the start of what's expected to be an 11-month process turning the unused space into the Lafitte Greenway.
"After eight years of concentrated advocacy, we're looking at construction starting this week," Annalisa Kelly of Friends of Lafitte Corridor told a group of Mid-City residents at a community meeting last week.
The city has selected Durr Heavy Construction to build the first phase of the project, which Kelly said could be finished in early 2015. The $5.6 million contract has brought forth plans for a 12-foot-wide asphalt trail and bike path spanning the length of the area from Basin Street to North Alexander Street, alongside a "meandering" pedestrian walk on a section from Dorgenois Street to North Carrollton Avenue. Called the "Carondelet Walk," the crushed gravel pedestrian path, designed for walkers, strollers and "the occasional jogger," is described in the project's second Master Plan as a "continuous gathering space" which connects neighborhoods that border the greenway from Mid-City to Treme. According to the plan, the Carondelet Walk will include picnic tables, shelters, shuffleboard courts and horseshoes.
While the greenway's advantages are clear for residents who live nearby, representatives of Friends of Lafitte Corridor maintain that everyone in the city will benefit. Members of the public can ask questions of city officials and representative of Durr at a public meeting at 6 p.n. Wednesday, March 18, at Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center (2200 Lafitte St.).
"It's a wonderful thing, what a park like this adds to a neighborhood," Friends of Lafitte Corridor Chair Samuel Spencer said. "We're excited it's going to give people options to get around without a car."
The walk also is also intended to recreate a bit of New Orleans history. It once was used as a promenade alongside the Carondelet Canal, which extended off Bayou St. John. "The dimensions of the Carondelet Canal are marked by a grove of cypress trees, the plants which once occupied the Cipriere au Bois," the master plan reads, explaining that cypress lumber was brought via canal from north of Lake Pontchartrain to build the French Quarter.
"This bold, mile-long line of light green foliage in the spring will turn to rusty red in the fall," it continues. "The visual strength of this planting will provide a truly memorable space within the city and be visible from the elevated interstate highway and even from arriving aircraft."
The plans for the Greenway call for much of that kind of historical tribute, blending in the natural pathway of the bayou, for instance, to "use the water" as travelers did 300 years ago. Designers called for the mapping of the historical alignment of the bayou and its tributaries with natural wetlands habitats.
The Lafitte Greenway also pays tribute to the historic locations of railroad tracks that ran through the corridor. North/south walkways of the sidewalk grid will be scored to mark the historic locations of those tracks, according to the Master Plan. "Stained bands of rust colored porous concrete will be nine-sixteenths of an inch wide, the width of a railroad rail," the document reads. "Pedestrians on these walkways will be reminded of the corridor's railroad history."
According to Spencer, one of the goals of the Lafitte Greenway from its inception was to honor the history of the corridor.
"The history of that stretch of land was really foremost in everyone's mind throughout this process," Spencer said. "Without that piece of geographical history, New Orleans could have been a very different place."
Some of the improvements outlined in the plan are designed to take place eventually, as the Greenway develops and natural wildlife adjusts. But others call for modern tweaks slated to happen much sooner. Over the next 11 months, officials anticipate building new sidewalks crossing the park, signal-enhanced street crossings, improved drainage and improved transit stops, according to a fact sheet provided by the city Department of Public Works, which oversees the greenway's development.
The construction also will bring 157 lights, 61 bike racks, two soccer goals and baseball or softball fields, according to Kelly.
Members of Friends of Lafitte Corridor are also "thrilled" about the 542 shade trees, mostly oak and cypress, slated to line the pathway from Mid-City to Treme, Kelly said.
"That was one thing we didn't know if we were going to get, lighting or trees, but the bid selected — Durr — covers all that," Kelly said.
Construction, which will begin with the Lafitte Greenway bicycle/pedestrian path, will start at Claiborne Avenue and be conducted weekdays from about 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The ultimate goal of Friends of the Lafitte Corridor is to have the Lafitte Greenway extend all the way to Lakeview.
According to a Lafitte Greenway management strategy report, created in June 2013, the organization wants to do much more with the space than what's currently planned. Organizers want to include fitness stations, basketball courts, an amphitheater, an orchard and a dog park.
Once the full Lafitte Greenway is built, however, there's the issue of who should maintain it.
"That is a question we want to ask of the city," Kelly said, adding that she plans to pose the question during Wednesday's public meeting.
According to the strategy report, a review of practices around the country suggests there are several alternatives for city management — and they all have their limitations.
"The Lafitte Greenway property is currently owned by the City of New Orleans and, therefore, the responsibility for operations and maintenance will fall to the city at the outset of operations," the document reads. "However, given the fiscal challenges facing the City of New Orleans Parks and Parkways Department, a variety of alternative management strategies and models were considered for the Greenway."
One, the single agency model, would be utilized if the Parks and Parkways Department were to operate the greenway. The document points out that the single agency model is "typically characterized by a slow speed of implementation, limited sources of funding, and leadership is often impacted by election turnover."
According to the plan, another setup is through a multi-agency model. Responsibilities could be shared between Parks and Parkways and the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission.
The greenway also could enter a private-public partnership, where a private sector would do most of the planning, design, implementation, and management of the greenway. Or it could be operated entirely through the private sector.
According to the document, some agencies, such as the Trust for Public Lands, have expressed interest in helping with the Greenway, and the city has looked into generating revenue from tax increment financing, but either of those by themselves would be insufficient to fund regular maintenance.
"To really maximize the greenway's potential, I think it's safe to say that some private fundraising would be needed," Samuel said. He added that Friends of Lafitte Corridor wants to play a "significant role" in partnerships with the city for the project, but couldn't yet say what that partnership would look like. "The main role that Friends of Lafitte Corridor wants to play in this is maximizing public participation," Spencer said.
Public meeting on the Lafitte Greenway
Wed., March 18, 6 p.m.
Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center
2200 Lafitte St.
For more information on Friends of Lafitte Corridor:
The New Orleans Department of Public Works will distribute monthly project construction updates. To receive updates, email Cheryn Robles at firstname.lastname@example.org.