By Claire Byun
The future of the Lafitte Greenway has been uncertain in the past. But now, with new leadership and a slew of projects underway, officials are hoping to revamp the 2.6-mile bicycle and pedestrian path that runs through the heart of Mid-City and beyond.
The Greenway recently came under the authority of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, which has hired security and maintenance for the 2-mile stretch of public land. Vic Richard, NORDC CEO, worked to dispel rumors and answer questions about the future of the Greenway at a public meeting last week.
“The city owns that space,” Richard said. “We will not be giving it away.”
Richard and his team are working to make the Greenway a safer space open to everyone, which will encourage future development, he said. A team of groundkeepers, security patrol officers and a site manager have been hired to run the site every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Security officers will not be commissioned to carry guns but will work to drive away “riff raff” who bring litter and crime to the area, Richard said.
Those patrol officers also have a Ford Explorer and Ranger stationed on the Greenway, and there are future plans for bike patrols.
Included in a slew of current projects, officials expect to complete Lemann Playground by September before the annual National Recreation and Park Association conference comes to New Orleans. The conference – which is expected to bring in nearly 8,000 people to the Greenway – has promised to donate several pieces of playground equipment, including bleachers, fitness machinery and a play area for younger children.
While Lemann has room for a baseball field, shelter and brake tag station, there’s language in the Greenway’s Master Plan that allows for a skate park, volleyball court and a dog park, Richard said. A member of the crowd asked if there are plans for a splash pad at the park, and Richard said anything is possible – as long as there’s funding.
“There’s nothing we can’t consider if someone wants to put the money up,” he said.
Richard said there’s $577,000 set aside to repurpose trash cans along the Greenway from Basin Street all the way to the end. Trash and litter cleanup will be a priority for grounds staff in the coming years, he added.
There’s a slew of other capital projects under construction that have priority over those that aren’t even on the table yet, Richard said. Crews are working to renovate a former brake tag station at North Lopez Street and Lafitte Avenue into an outdoor pavilion with roll up windows.
Wes Michaels, with Spackman Mossop Michaels, said the project will go out for bid soon and cost roughly $1.1 million – funded with FEMA money. There are plans for four restrooms, an opening right onto the Greenway and possible room for a cafe.
“In general we’re doing the whole thing up, but we’re trying to keep the character of the site,” Michaels said.
The project is estimated at $2 million, Michaels said, but until Richard can find extra funding only $1.1 million of work will be completed.
There are also plans for a 1,500-square foot clubhouse at Lemann Playground which includes concessions, restrooms and equipment storage. Michaels said the project originally went out for bid at an estimated cost of $700,000, but no one would work it for less than $1.2 million.
Until those funds are freed, that project is on the back-burner, Michaels said.
“That money is still sitting there,” Richard said. “It’s a good time to be a developer or contractor in this city.”
Other current capital projects include:
-Demolishing an unused Department of Public Works traffic signal and sign shop at Lafitte Avenue and North White Street (at a cost of $49,000)
-Reconstructing a new sewer station at Lafitte Avenue and North Dorgenois Street to replace the existing pump station at Broad and Toulouse streets (with an expected completion date of July 2018)
-Redeveloping North Galvez Street from Lafitte Avenue to Bienville Street to replace an Sewerage and Water Board sewer force main
Crews are working on rehabbing the surrounding meadows and bio swoles across the whole Greenway, Michaels said, which will take two to three years to complete.
“We’re getting it looking good, but this is something we have to work at,” Michaels said. “We’re making bio atmospheres and revamping those meadows.”
NORDC is also pursuing a cooperative endeavor agreement to allow Friends of Lafitte Greenway to provide programming along the greenspace. Sophie Harris, executive director of Friends, said NORDC’s presence on the Greenway is an asset.
“We’re excited to have NORDC’s leadership out here,” Harris said. “It’s going to be great.”
Despite planned improvements, other projects are stuck in without funding – at least for now. A proposed extension of North Galvez Street from the Greenway to Poydras Street was denied in the most recent Capital Improvement Plan. That project, with an estimated $700,000 price tag, was proposed by the Department of Parks and Parkways.
Richard was also doubtful an expansion to City Park would ever be completed. His focus, he said last week, is to finish the projects already on the table; any new projects left on the table can be funded in the future or through private donations.
“There’s a difference between like-to-have and a need-to-have, and we’re working on the needs first,” he said.