Following a contentious neighborhood meeting earlier this year about a proposed dog park at Annunciation Square, the New Orleans Recreation Department is no longer requesting money from the city budget for either improvements at Annunciation Square or a new Uptown dog park.
It is illegal for dog owners to let their pets off leashes except in the very few official dog parks around the city — such as Wisner Park — but a number of parks have become popular with dog owners anyway, creating clashes with other park-goers, especially parents of young children, who are put off by the free-roaming animals. City officials have said they recognize the need for animals to get exercise and the benefits to the neighborhood of official dog parks, but have struggled to find locations for them suitable to the neighbors.
As recently as last year, the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission placed requests to the mayor’s office for nearly $1 million in improvements to Annunciation Square (for “new playground equipment and improvements”) and $500,000 for a new Uptown dog park, with its “location to be determined.” The City Council chose not to fund either of those requests last year — and in fact only awarded $1.3 million for maintenance out of the $33 million in 2016 recreation requests — but city agencies frequently repeat the same requests year after year until they rise high enough in priority to receive a budget allocation.
In January, New Orleans Recreation Department director Vic Richard presented a plan to carve out a slice of Annunciation Square along Annunciation Street for a professionally designed, fenced-in dog park. The plan, Richard said, would corral the dog owners who already play all over Annunciation Square and hopefully draw some dog owners out of Coliseum Square as well, while taking pressure off of the dog run at Wisner Park.
Opponents of the idea worried that increased concentration of dogs could pose a threat to the students at the nearby St. Michael Special School, and also worried that maintenance of the property could lapse as it has occasionally done at Wisner Park. When Richard asked for a show of hands about the idea at the January meeting, a clear majority were opposed, and surprised city officials left the meeting saying they were going back to the drawing board.
On Thursday, the New Orleans Recreation Department presented its $41 million wish list of building projects, and it no longer includes either the request for Annunciation Square upgrades or the Uptown dog park. After the meeting, Richard acknowledged that the project was no longer among his funding requests.
“Many moons ago, we had a line item in there, but I don’t know where it’s going to go right now,” Richard said. “Hopefully we can get some folks to agree, and we can get some work done. But I haven’t been talking to them, so the answer to that is ‘no’ right now.”
On Friday afternoon, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office said that they are still trying to find a workable solution to the dog park issue, and that maintenance projects are taking a higher priority in this year’s recreation funding requests.
“Through the years, we have been committed to working with the community to achieve both a balanced accommodation that protects children and adults and provides pet owners options for lawfully enjoying public space with their dogs,” said Erin Burns, press secretary for Mayor Landrieu. “The request for funding for the new dog park in Annunciation Square was not resubmitted because, at this time, NORDC is focusing its resources on completing projects that will add basic human services to its parks such as restrooms and water fountains.”
[Note: This article was first published shortly before noon Friday, June 2, and updated at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a comment from the mayor’s office.]