Aesthetics planned for Metairie

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER A landscaped section of the neutral ground on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie near Bonnabel Boulevard features public art.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER A landscaped section of the neutral ground on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie near Bonnabel Boulevard features public art.

A florist by trade, Jefferson Parish Councilman E. Ben Zahn III understands the power of beautiful things. That’s why Zahn is embarking on a plan to improve the aesthetics of his entire district with beautification projects on Veterans Boulevard, Power Boulevard and at several subdivisions.

Zahn hopes to begin construction on a $656,000 beautification project on Veterans Boulevard by early next year and follow that with the installation of artwork on Power Boulevard. He also wants to improve the entrances to subdivisions throughout his district, starting with a new sign and flags at the entrance to Bissonet Subdivision in Metairie. The work will be paid for through Zahn’s discretionary funds and private donations.

Zahn said his efforts are part of a plan to improve the appeal of his district in a way that will possibly attract more residents and businesses. When he took office a year ago, Zahn said he found the Veterans Boulevard project languishing on the shelf. He made it a priority to get that project started and then realized there was more work that could be done.

“When I came in, there was talk about doing some beautification on Veterans Boulevard and I said ‘Let’s turn the talk into action,” Zahn said. “All that (area is) starting to be revitalized, and we want to help that area out.”

The Veterans Boulevard work would start right near the Bissonet subdivision slightly east of the Veterans Boulevard exit on Interstate 10. It would continue along medians up to the Kenner city limits. The work will include new trees, landscaping, irrigation systems, lighting, new concrete and decorative pavers.

Zahn said he wants to see the medians in his district mirror those closer to Lakeside Mall and Bonnabel Drive, which he says have become real talking points in the parish. Although the same level of development is not possible because of a space concerns in Zahn’s district, some improvements can be done, he said.

But Zahn doesn’t want to stop with Veterans Boulevard. He plans to add decorative lighting on West Esplanade Avenue near Wilson Street and Acadian Drive. Zahn also would like to make additions to existing artwork on Power Boulevard.

Jefferson Parish embarked on an ambitious public art program called “Artscapes” several years ago that involved erecting large sculptures and doing beautification work throughout out the parish. Recently parish officials unveiled the new Jefferson Parish Oyster Trail, which uses artwork to encourage visits to local restaurants.

But those projects can come with a hefty price tag, and with the parish’s budget shrinking, the parish is fighting for increasingly competitive grants to fund the continuation of the program. However, Zahn said he was recently approached by an artist who is willing to donate several pieces, and the first would be erected at the intersection of Power Boulevard and West Esplanade Avenue. Two other pieces would be erected at a later date, he said.

“What I liked was the price tag: donated,” Zahn said.

If Jefferson Parish wants to keep pace with other areas around the country in drawing visitors and businesses, it has to improve its look, Zahn said. He noted that when he was a Kenner councilman, he made the same sort of push, and he hopes Kenner will join in some of the work on Veterans Boulevard.

“We’re trying to keep up with the other areas that you visit on vacation,” he said.

To that end, Zahn is reaching out to local civic associations to make improvements to the entrances to their divisions. He’d like to see the associations improve the signage at the entrances of their subdivisions. Zahn is partnering with the Bissonet Civic Association to improve its sign with a combination of public and private funds. He’s willing to do the same with other civic associations throughout his district, he said. The signs not only improve aesthetics, but can be a source of community unity, he said.

“Most people want to move into an area that’s beautified,” Zahn noted. “We’re going to start showing people where their money is going by doing this.”