N.O.’s '14 capital budget funds streets, playgrounds

Repairs to streets all around New Orleans, a new 2nd District police station, improvements to two dozen parks and playgrounds, renovations at Louis Armstrong International Airport, projects at both Audubon Park and City Park, a new coroner’s complex — and meantime the FEMA money keeps rolling in, to the tune of more than $1 billion since Hurricane Katrina.

Presentation of the capital budget — often seemingly just an afterthought compared with the headlines produced by the city’s operating budget — sounded almost like the reading of a Santa Claus wish list last week as Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration outlined to the City Council what it expects to spend next year on infrastructure and other capital projects.

Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said the 2014 capital budget totals $247.4 million, with the lion’s share — $152.9 million — going to the Department of Public Works for street projects.

The biggest source of that money will be FEMA, scheduled to provide about $103 million of the $247 million total.

Since the Landrieu administration took office in May 2010, Grant said, the city has received $759 million in additional FEMA commitments, on top of about $300 million obligated during Ray Nagin’s post-Katrina years in the mayor’s office.

Grant said he and other city staff members continue to work with FEMA and state officials every day “to validate and secure every dollar that we are owed,” and that the city could be in line for another $150 million to $300 million before the books are finally closed on the federal government’s largesse to New Orleans in the wake of the 2005 hurricane that flooded most of the city.

In 2014, Grant said, the city and FEMA will “begin in earnest” to implement Phase II of the Recovery Roads Program designed to complete work on all Katrina-damaged roadways in the city, with more than $250 million to be spent over the next few years for dozens of projects.

Another $65 million is scheduled to come from the sale in coming months of the last city general-obligation bonds authorized by the voters in 2004 as part of an overall $260 million bond program.

Grant said two-thirds of the bond money will be used for improving streets, including St. Bernard Avenue, Homedale Avenue, Michoud Boulevard, Old Spanish Trail, Chestnut Street, Coliseum Street, Gravier Street, Octavia Street, South Johnson Street and others.

Ongoing projects that are already under construction or out to bid include the coroner’s complex, Gernon Brown Gym, Milne Boys Home, Sanchez Center and pool, Behrman soccer complex, Stallings St. Claude Center and pool, Joe W. Brown Park and a number of streetscape beautification and improvement projects citywide.

All told, Grant said, 44 projects are due to be completed during 2013.

One project Grant did not mention in his presentation to the council but that is listed in the capital budget is the city’s plan to convert the vacant state-owned Charity Hospital building on Tulane Avenue into a civic center, housing City Hall and at least one other major tenant, though the Civil District Court judges are fighting the mayor’s plan to move them to the site.

The budget includes $20.3 million — $13 million in state capital outlay money and $7.3 million from FEMA — for that project in 2014.

Of the $247 million in the capital budget, $47 million is for work at Armstrong Airport. That money is all raised by the airport itself from operations or federal grants.

The Audubon Commission is slated to spend $400,000 on improvements to Audubon Park’s riverfront recreational area, often known as “the Fly,” for replacing lighting and benches, renovating restrooms and adding bicycle lanes.

At City Park, meanwhile, the Botanical Garden will be expanded with construction of a $700,000 plaza for exhibitions and special events.

In Algiers, Fire Stations 33 and 40 will be consolidated and a new or renovated Station 33 built.

Also in Algiers, $400,000 is allocated for land acquisition and design work for a new 4th District station.

The new 2nd District Police Station in the Gert Town area will replace the old and termite-damaged building on Magazine Street.

The 2014 budget allocates $2.2 million for the new building, on top of $400,000 this year to buy the land.

Playgrounds due for improvements in 2014 include Hardin, Taylor, Lemann, Conrad, Kenilworth, Kerry Curley, Pradat, Bodenger, Bunny Friend, Delery, Digby, Willie Hall and others, plus Perry Roehm Stadium and the St. Bernard Center.

The Children’s Resource Center on Napoleon Avenue will get a new air-conditioning system, and major repairs are scheduled at the main library on Loyola Avenue.

The city also will pay to move the air-conditioning system at the New Orleans Museum of Art from the basement to the roof.

The French Market Corp. will spend almost $900,000 in self-generated money on repairs and upgrades to its buildings, and another $730,000 of similar work is scheduled at the nearby Upper Pontalba Building.