Portion of Crescent Park could open by the fall 

A $30 million park on a strip of riverfront land spanning the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods could open as soon as this fall, although it is still unclear who will manage and operate the so-called Crescent Park.

Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, who is overseeing the project as the interim director of the New Orleans Building Corp, said the city is wrapping up aesthetic projects, such as painting and planting, and has just one major construction project remaining.

The park, which stretches from Elysian Fields Avenue to Bartholomew Street, was originally due to open in 2012. Progress was slowed by a delay in construction because of high river levels in 2011 and the redesign of a crossing bridge at Mandeville Street.

This spring, city officials said they weren’t sure when it would open, in part, because no agreement had been reached with an agency to provide maintenance, security and other management and operations duties in the 1.4-mile space.

Grant said the city is again in talks with the French Market Corp. for that job.

The Landrieu administration was negotiating a management agreement last year with the agency’s then-director Frank Pizzolato, who resigned in December in a management dispute. The selection of a new director, Valerie Rivers, this month could move things along.

The French Market Corp. oversees the city-owned French Market and the Upper Pontalba Building.

But New Orleans is not wedded to the public agency, Grant said.

“We’re trying to see if we should try to contract (the park’s management) out or see if we should do it with them,” Grant said. “They’ve committed to assisting us with funding.”

The final cost to maintain the park hasn’t yet been decided, but it could range from $500,000 to $1 million a year, Grant said.

That money would be used to pay for maintenance, landscaping, security and any programming or special events.

“That’s what I’m really working through right now,” Grant said. “As soon as I can get it done and completed, it’s going to open.”

Aside from some landscaping the park appears complete. An arched pedestrian bridge at the intersection of Chartres and Piety streets beckons to neighbors over the floodwall, but access is blocked by a padlocked gate. “No trespassing” signs confront anyone who might consider going for a run or bike ride along the riverfront.

For some neighbors, temptation has been strong. On the Fourth of July, dozens of impatient residents dispatched with the guard gate and poured into the property to watch the fireworks display.

“We would like to see them open at least that end of the park, even if they have to put a temporary fence up to block the rest of the park,” said Mary Ann Hammett, a member of the board of the Bywater Neighborhood Association. “We should be able to officially use that park.”

Grant says he hopes management details can be worked out and a portion of the park, mostly in the Bywater neighborhood, opened by the fall.

An upriver section of the park in the Marigny would remain closed as a pedestrian bridge is constructed at Mandeville Street. A request for bids for that project is going out in the next two months, Grant said.

The entire park would open in 2014.

Crescent Park was intended as the first phase of a $300 million rebuild of miles of riverfront wharves between Jackson Avenue and the Industrial Canal. The extensive project, called “Reinventing the Crescent,” launched under former Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration with a goal of making the riverfront more accessible where wharves and warehouses used to support shipping activity block the river from surrounding neighborhoods.

The future of the overall project, which is unfunded, is uncertain.

Construction of the park was paid for by a $30 million Community Development Block Grant.

The 1.4-mile space includes play areas, a dog run and two multi-use spaces — the Mandeville Shed and Piety Wharf.

The Mandeville shed will house a 60,000-square-foot open-air pavilion for events such as concerts and festivals.