Officials: Restoration work on park may be done by May

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  Workers labor building an equipment and concession facility at Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East Wednesday. Some work will be done by the Super Bowl, city officials say, with the rest slated for completion by the end of May.TE/ JOHN McCUSKER
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Workers labor building an equipment and concession facility at Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East Wednesday. Some work will be done by the Super Bowl, city officials say, with the rest slated for completion by the end of May.TE/ JOHN McCUSKER

Joe Brown Memorial Park is like so many ongoing post-Katrina rehabilitation projects: a bit of a diamond in the rough.

Right now, city officials admit, it’s a messy construction site that somewhat awkwardly doubles as an active recreation spot for the estimated 70,000 residents of eastern New Orleans. Within months, though, the park is expected to be fully restored, thanks to a $30 million investment.

Daniel McElmurray, with the city’s capital projects administration, recently told a small crowd of residents who gathered at the neighboring Read Boulevard library for an update, that some work will be done by the Super Bowl. The rest should be completed by the end of May, he said.

“We have to kick people to work faster,” he said. “We need to be out of here by June.”

Though he said work is actually moving at a good pace, a handful of bids that recently came back too high are to blame for some delays.

While an indoor pool opened and the new Joe Brown Center already welcomes guests, the Victory Football Field and Victory Track field are in their final stages of completion. The athletic facilities rival some small college venues and will play host to New Orleans Recreation Department Commission sports when they open.

Other projects include repair and reconstruction of lighting, a baseball field, new picnic shelters, a walking path extension and widening, a water play area, tennis court renovations, concession stand renovations, upgraded parking, outdoor basketball courts, pedestrian bridges, landscaping and park signage.

More than two-thirds of the funding for the repair and construction work comes from FEMA recovery dollars, Community Development Block Grants, city bond funds and insurance, according to C. Hayne Rainey, a City Hall spokesman. Additionally, donations from Nike, the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Brees Dream Foundation will help pay for park enhancements, Rainey said.

Work on trails and landscaping around the new football and track and soccer stadiums is scheduled to be done by the end of January.

February should see the completion of concession stands and a plaza between the park’s indoor pool and the Joe Brown Center, which houses a gym and space for other activities.

By March, crews should be ready to clean the lagoons in the park. While some of those who attended the meeting on the update expressed concern about the wildlife that lives in the park, McElmurray said that there already are plans to deal with that. Some alligators that lurk in the lagoons will be relocated for visitors’ safety, he said.

In April, the baseball field will be completed, as will the water play area and additional landscaping.

Crews will install new picnic areas and repave the parking lots in May once all the heavy machinery has left the park.

Neighbors who use the park said they are anxious to see all its services returned, particularly NORDC programs.

Shawn Wyatt, a NORDC representative, said that there will be a full spectrum of activities, including sports, music and exercise.

“Nobody needs to worry,” he said. “We’ll have full programming.”

McElmurray said that the work at Joe Brown Park and its expanded facilities will naturally lend itself to diversified offerings.

“This is turning into quite a large regional park for NORDC,” he said.

Regardless of the bigger picture, eastern New Orleans residents said they’ll just be glad to have their park restored.

“This is important to get back,” said Lydia Scioneaux as she took a morning walk through the park on Wednesday. “It’s important for the kids and the families. We need this.”