As Audubon Park prepares for upgrades to some of its more popular picnic shelters, officials are asking the public what to do about one such closed structure on Magazine Street. Should the park renovate Shelter 13, tear it down for green space, or convert it into a security station?
Audubon Park has four major picnic structures — Shelter 10 near the golf clubhouse, Shelters 11 and 12 near St. Charles Avenue, and Shelter 13 near the downtown end of Magazine Street. Shelter 10 was renovated in 2014 and remains in fairly good shape, but Shelters 11 and 12 are due for updates, said Ashley McClaran, vice president for construction at the park.
The walkways around each structure will be improved with bricks to match the existing pedestrian paths, improving access for the disabled and families with strollers, McClaran said. New play structures for younger children will be added, and the existing play structures will be updated with fresh paint and new rubber mats underneath. New trees and other plantings will be added around both areas, and Shelter 11’s play area will be surrounded by a small barrier to discourage children from running toward St. Charles Avenue.
“It’s at the front of the park,” McClaran said of Shelter 11. “We want to add a little pop of color and dress it up a little bit.”
No work will be done to the Shelter 11 building itself, since it was also renovated in 2013. Shelter 12 near Walnut Street, however, has had little work since it burned and was rebuilt in the early 1960s, so it will receive upgraded lighting, better water fountains, and new bathroom amenities, while retaining its same basic form.
“This shelter does need a little more love,” McClaran said of Shelter 12. “But when it’s all said and done, the building should look relatively the same.”
Audubon CEO Ron Forman said the park has money to cover the work planned at both shelters, and that the Audubon Commission will hear a motion at its next meeting to authorize the work at Shelters 11 and 12.
The looming question, however, is what to do with Shelter 13 on Magazine Street, which is currently closed to the public and fenced in. Park officials said they have heard such a range of suggestions that they want to invite and explore more public input before making a decision. Among the pending ideas:
- Repair it and return it to use a shelter,
- Remove it and return the area to green space,
- Renovate it into a security substation,
- Renovate it into a storage and maintenance facility,
- Stabilize it and shutter it, essentially leaving it in its current state until a more pressing use is found.
One idea, Forman said, is to remove the architecturally significant pieces of Shelter 13 from the Magazine Street and use them in a project to upgrade the bathrooms on the Riverview. The benefit of that concept, he said, is that the park already has money for the Riverview bathroom upgrades — considered an urgent need — but no money for Shelter 13.
“If you can take a majority of the structure and use it as a skeleton for the [Riverview] bathroom structure, you could potentially build the bathrooms cheaper and better,” said neighborhood activist Drew Ward.
Meanwhile, when Shelter 13 was open, park users frequently complained about the safety risks of having it so close to Magazine Street, he said — and that was even before Magazine was as busy a thoroughfare as it is today.
“Numerous people complained about kids running from the playground and shelter area toward Magazine Street,” Forman said. “But to tear it down would take significant input because of the historical significance.”
Several residents present at the meeting said they believed the park’s sole intention for Shelter 13 is the security station, based on previous architectural plans developed for it, and that the consideration of other ideas is just a charade.
“That’s a terrible place to have a security station,” said neighborhood resident Paulette Perrien.
Other residents urged the commission not to make any decision on Shelter 13 until a master plan for the park has been developed that would govern any kind of development or land-use changes inside Audubon Park.
“The fact that it’s a change in use puts it into the category of being in a master plan,” said David Keiffer. “I think there’s a fear that these little changes could turn into something much different or bigger than anyone imagined.”
Forman acknowledged that the security station concept had been considered, in part because the New Orleans Police Department is moving its Second District station from Magazine Street to Gert Town. A police vehicle could park in a designated spot on Magazine Street without taking up any green space, he noted.
But for now, Forman stressed that no decision has been made weighing any option more heavily than the others. Without any designated money for the project, he does not even plan to ask the Commission for their decision until more public input has been gathered.
“We retained an architect to try to figure out what to do with that shelter house, and a security office is one of the ideas, but there’s no plan at this time to do anything but collect ideas,” Forman said. “There’s no reason to rush to do it. We’re collecting ideas right now.”