Playground added to plans for Gretna site

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER Gretna City Council member Belinda Constant stands on a rainy green spot Thursday on Huey P. Long Avenue, where a visitor's center is being readied and a playground will be built. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER Gretna City Council member Belinda Constant stands on a rainy green spot Thursday on Huey P. Long Avenue, where a visitor's center is being readied and a playground will be built.

The “gateway to Gretna” will now include a $120,000 playground after city officials agreed this week to add that feature to the renovations of a historic home on Huey P. Long Avenue.

At the urging of Councilwoman Belinda Constant, the Gretna City Council adopted a new master plan for the Gretna Heritage House site, which already includes a new visitor’s center carved out of a renovated historic home and a serenity garden. The council also shifted around funds from her discretionary account and another project on Huey P. Long Avenue to help pay for the project.

The Heritage House is one of Constant’s priorities for her district, and she said she was pleased to add a playground to the site to help draw in more visitors. According to a presentation from architect Tom Phillips, construction on the playground will begin in the spring, and it will feature equipment for children from 2 to 12 years old. The playground will be slightly less than an acre in size, and the city plans to install fencing around the area to protect children from running into a nearby street.

“I’m real excited about this,” Constant said. “I’m really excited about the whole project.”

The playground is just the latest addition to a project Constant has been shepherding for more than a year. In 2011, the 19th century historic home was moved from Lavoisier Street to the corner of Huey P. Long Avenue and 8th Street after a new condominium project began being discussed in Gretna’s downtown. That move was financed by private donations, but since then Constant has pumped at least $75,000 in public dollars into renovating the home to make it into the “gateway” for the city.

She told the council that she’s regularly approached by residents asking about the progress at the site. The city has nearly completed most of the exterior improvements needed for the home and is preparing to start interior renovations once designs are completed in March. A private nonprofit also is raising money for the project.

The city has plans to add about 12 off-street parking spots to the site, a new pavilion and a serenity garden. The garden project is expected to be completed by a group of college students this summer. Phillips told the council that he believes all three elements can exist on the same site without things becoming too cramped.

“We can actually accommodate both plans; it’s just going to take a little tweaking” Phillips said.

Mayor Ronnie Harris said the different designs provide a good blueprint for the city to keep in mind as it moves forward in the project.

“In essence this is a master plan,” Harris said.

Constant has said she envisions the center serving as an information hub for both city residents and visitors to Gretna’s downtown. People can get information on the city’s history, as well as learn about some of the guidelines for purchasing a home in the city’s historic district.

Once the city opens the new visitor’s center, it can close its existing visitor’s center at a converted train depot on Fourth Street and merge that building with the operations at the Gretna Farmer’s Market. Several upgrades to the market have been done, and the depot will serve as a headquarters of a sort.