Feb 172016
 
A resident asks the City Council for a compromise location for the proposed Carrollton Boosters sports complex as members of the Audubon Commission and Carrollton Boosters listen. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

A resident asks the City Council for a compromise location for the proposed Carrollton Boosters sports complex as members of the Audubon Commission and Carrollton Boosters listen. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

More than three hours of impassioned arguments by neighbors Wednesday against the Carrollton Boosters’ proposed new soccer complex on The Fly garnered little more from the New Orleans City Council than a promise to provide better advance notice in the future and a scolding for the tenor of some of the complaints about it.

Last year, the Audubon Commission signed an agreement allowing the Carrollton Boosters to build a new complex with an Astroturf field for soccer and other sports adjacent to its baseball facility on the Riverview area known as The Fly. The plan attracted little attention until January of this year, when the Carrollton Boosters sought to tear down an old cinderblock bathroom building in the site’s footprint — leading to the formation of a Save The Fly activist group, a formal expression of concern from the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association, and a picnic rally Sunday at the public-art structure that will also be removed to make way for the complex.

On Wednesday, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell summoned the Audubon Commission and Carrollton Boosters leadership to appear before her Community Development Committee to explain the project. She began with stern words of displeasure about the lack of information shared by either entity about their plans — even with the City Council.

“The New Orleans City Council, we were not given a presentation,” Cantrell said. “We were not asked for input.”

David Sumrall, a past president of the Carrollton Boosters, began by explaining that the 75-year-old club is an almost entirely all-volunteer organization. They have only two paid full-time employees, in maintenance and concessions, and most of the leadership actually donates to the club, rather than receiving money from it.

Over the years, the club replaced an old regulation baseball field on The Fly with its current baseball complex, and took over the nearby Avenger Field for other sports, including lacrosse and flag football. Every year, especially since Hurricane Katrina, the club has grown to accommodate the increasing number of families who register, Sumrall said, and the need for more even space quickly became apparent.

“The growth of our programs were exponential,” Sumrall said, noting that anyone who registers is allowed to play, regardless of ability to pay the fees. “We’ve never turned anyone away that I’m aware of.”

(In a sidebar conversation of sorts, the Carrollton Boosters and the City Council members debated the state of the Cuccia Barnes park in Hollygrove. The Boosters said they plan to continue using it, but are waiting on a renovation project by the city — and the council members urged them to keep it in better condition in the meantime.)

Audubon Commission chair Kelly Duncan and Audubon Institute CEO Ron Forman emphasized that the agreement with the Carrollton Boosters for the current project was signed in an open, publicly noticed meeting of the Audubon Commission in April 2015. Nearly two-thirds of The Fly will remain green space, they said, and will remain a popular feature of the city — just like all the commission’s other controversial expansions over the decades.

“The battle cries, all the yelling and screaming — at the end of the day, we worked together,” Forman said.

With that, Cantrell’s committee opened the floor for more than two hours of public comment. While a number of speakers expressed their support for the new complex, Councilwoman Susan Guidry would note that the overwhelming majority at the meeting said they preferred a different arrangement that would preserve the Fly in its current condition.

The opponents — who largely said they support the Carrollton Boosters, some even as current parents or coaches in the organization — said they wanted the complex to find a different location. Their arguments generally followed one more of the following reasons:

  • The area of the Fly proposed for the complex is a “sacred space,” one of the best views of the river available to the public. Architect Michael Nius, one of the designers of the public art structure that will be removed, said that location was chosen for that very reason. “It just absolutely is the wrong spot,” said Bart Shank. “It does have a magical feel. That soccer field can go a lot of places, but I can’t get that magical feel a lot of places.”
  • Fields for team sports are no replacement for open green space, and the sports complex could be located anywhere. “Fenced in areas do not allow free play,” said Dr. Holly Groh. “In general, I believe we need to have as much open green space as possible. The health of our community needs it both mentally and physically.”
  • Handing control of that portion of the property amounts to the privatization of open space. “What’s going to happen 10 years from now?” asked Tom Fitzpatrick. “Are they going to want a little more?”
  • The public had little to no input on the planning of the project. Though the Audubon Commission meeting followed the legal requirements, most of the public was unaware of it, even though nearly a year has passed, they said. “You’re about to break ground, and we just heard of it?” said Maggie Carroll.
  • Several speakers criticized the Carrollton Boosters for a lack of diversity in their participants, while noting that rest of The Fly is enjoyed by members of all races. “There are some cultural issues that need to be addressed before we the public giving more public land to an entity like this one,” said Tillman Hardy.
  • A handful of speakers said the impact of the stadium on quality-of-life issues like traffic congestion and stormwater runoff has not been adequately studied or described.

At the conclusion of these arguments, the City Council members present — Cantrell, Guidry, James Gray and Stacy Head — gave their own thoughts.

Gray, a former Carrollton Boosters coach himself, spoke at length about both sides of the issue. He said the city does a poor job of making its recreation opportunities available to low-income residents, but that the Carrollton Boosters shouldn’t held solely responsible for that problem.

If those residents are truly concerned that the Carrollton Boosters over-serve affluent families instead of the poor, Gray said, there are plenty of parks in the Lower Ninth Ward that lack booster club support and could use volunteers from among the opponents of the project on The Fly.

Head took Gray’s comments further. She applauded the Boosters for their commitment to accepting all children who register for team sports, and waiving fees for those who say they can’t afford them. Anyone who knows a poor child who needs a recreation opportunity should send them to the Boosters, Head said.

She said she might have been inclined to agree with the arguments about public notice or even the privatization of public space, but was turned off by the “thinly-guised race-baiting” arguments by some of the speakers.

Guidry — noting the broad opposition to the complex — said she hoped that Wednesday’s meeting could be the first step toward a compromise.

“Obviously, the people who came here today are overwhelmingly in favor of keeping that portion of the Fly as it is,” Guidry said. “I think there should be further discussion.”

The City Council has already approved the demolition of the bathrooms Feb. 4, however, and Guidry did not suggest any interest in revisiting that motion. No compromise location was proffered by the Audubon or Carrollton leadership.

Finally, Cantrell repeated her concerns about the lack of public input into the process, to which Duncan and Forman replied that they had been taking extensive notes on how to improve their communication. Giving the public a forum to express their opinions was the point of Wednesday’s committee meeting, Cantrell concluded — and with that, promptly adjourned it.

See below for our live coverage of the meeting.

Live Blog City Council Community Development Committee – Feb. 17, 2016
 

  • ferngrrl

    Great job, Robert, and a great service to those of us who cannot be there right now. Thank you!

  • ferngrrl

    I do not see “4,200 [Boosters] families” using the Fly “every week.” And “New Orleanians” means everyone, not just CB members. Not every kid or family wants to play team sports.

    • Shannon Cravens

      AMEN!!!

    • rebecca

      DOUBLE AMEN! 4200 members of the Club…I suppose…Forman stated 10,000….so they need to get on the same page

  • Caytee Carter Clark

    Head says that some of the speakers were unfair and offensive – I didn’t read that in your transcript – what’s she talking about?

    • Pam

      She had a tantrum about it and no one said anything offensive along those lines. There were a couple of people who hinted that there must have been a back door deal between Benson and Forman since sit they sit on the same board, but no one tried to play the “race card”. In fact, the first African American speaker that I remember spoke well after Ms. Head’s tantrum. She is one of those people who hears, “this will exclude people since it’s fenced off” and translates it into the speaker accusing the CB of elitism. That is not at all what was spoken or implied.

      • Shannon Cravens

        She’s something else, huh?

      • rebecca

        She was referring to the ppl who were blaming the Boosters for ALL of this…when in FACT its RON FORMAN who is behind it! The SIGN NOW STATES …MEMBERS ONLY….thats not public!

  • ultimateliberal

    Another Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover by private interests.

    Carrollton Boosters needs to purchase the Carrollton Courthouse and build their fields where the portable buildings are.

    • Drew Ward

      Seriously?

  • UptownLady

    Looks like New Orleans is for sale…..It’s not just the children who use this space. The Fly is a family spot as well, for all ages to enjoy, whether they play sports or not.

    • rebecca

      Not for sale exactly…just transferring things into Ron Formans and other buddies of Landrieu hands!

  • Cannibal Special

    I don’t know why people are whining to the City Council. By state law, this land is fully controlled by the Audubon Commission. If they decided to close down the Fly tomorrow, there’s nothing the Council could do about it.

    In the 1970s, this unused batture was salvaged to expand the Park. It was not “historically designated” as a picnic grounds or anything like that. It is a reclaimed landfill on the river side of the levee.

    I would be interested to know when sports fields were first implemented at the Fly. I don’t remember, but I would guess it was in the ’80s.

    • Drew Ward

      This map is from 1940. It’s been used for picnic grounds and as open public green space going all the way back to 1833. The difference is that all but a few pieces of Carrollton’s once extensive system of parks and public spaces have already been sold off by the city or school board or Audubon so that most people don’t realise what’s been lost.

      True, for a brief time the city in its wisdom took it over as a landfill, but Audubon didn’t just come along and rescue the Fly from obscurity. This belongs to the people of Carrollton and it always has.

      • Cannibal Special

        Drew, Have you ever actually BEEN to the Fly? It’s on the batture, between the Public Belt RR (and levee) and the River. Your 1940s map clearly shows picnic grounds on the CITY side of the RR – not on the River side, where the landfill was!!!

    • R P

      People are upset because it still isn’t right to take over, what, ostensibly, is a public park for everyone in the community to be able to use, and then fence it off and so on so that only one particular group can use it and only for one purpose, i.e. team sports. If the property does not, bottom line, belong to the public, fine. Then let whoever does own make the call on what to do with it and so be it. But, even if the Audubon Nature Institute is supposed to be tasked with operating all of these properties, aren’t they still, at least in theory, supposed to be owned by the public and for the use of the general public?

    • rebecca

      According to Assessors maps this area is OWNED by the city and leased or something to Audubon and then leased to the Boosters…..maybe someone will clarify!

  • Mike Duffy

    The Audubon Commission is like a secret organization. THERE IS NEVER A POSTING OF A commission MEETING COMING UP IN THE PARK….there is not even a billboard devoted to such notices. Their meetings are never posted….Rex is more open—Rex invites the public to run with them at Mardi Gras and posts signs all over the park. The real fight should be about taking back the part of the park devoted to golf….the heart of the park….talk about not serving a cross section of the community………….and the golf course loses hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

    • Drew Ward

      The real fight should be getting rid of the Audubon commission once and for all and turning the people of New Orleans’ public parks over to the people themselves through either the council or through some new ELECTED (not appointed by the mayor) entity.

      • Cannibal Special

        Hmm, let’s compare the Audubon Nature Institute’s facilities with those run directly by the City. What could possibly go wrong?!

        • nathanschwam

          i agree but the public should be actually encouraged to weigh in on what happens to public property. That just did not happen here.

          • R P

            I dare say that there was not public input prior to the Carrollton Boosters’ construction of the baseball fields complex that now has a significant portion of the area fenced off and locked up and not open for use by the general public whereas prior to that construction there was an open field that often did get used as a soccer field for pick-up games and for ultimate frisbee and football, as well.

  • Dusk Lipton

    Help me out: They’re going to demolish the bathrooms before providing other bathrooms for everyone?!?

  • nathanschwam

    You are reading the map wrong. The Fly is the sliver between the
    railroad and the water. The Picnic Grounds are now overflow parking on
    the grass for the zoo on busy days. Have you ever been on Magazine where it begins at the river? đŸ™‚

  • will_k2

    There are already bathrooms in the building by the baseball fields. I have used them half a dozen times and believe me no one ever asked me to show a Carrolton Boosters membership card (maybe because there is no such thing).

  • boathead12

    they are demolishing the 1960’s era cinderblock structure on the same section as the “sculpture/art/stage” thingie.