Applying themes from his address on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last year to the national stage today, former President Bill Clinton described unity as a prerequisite to prosperity and his wife as the best candidate to fight for both before a crowd of New Orleans supporters in Central City on Friday morning. “The first thing is, you’ve got to elect a President who sees everybody,” Clinton said. “You can’t fix a problem or redeem a promise for someone you don’t see.” Bill Clinton’s remarks come on the eve of Saturday’s Presidential primary elections in Louisiana, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is widely expected to continue her sweep of Southern states. He returns to the city less than a year after he gave the keynote speech during the city’s 10th-anniversary commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, when he called for a “new unity” between those who celebrate the city’s rebirth and those who lament its ongoing or even widening injustices.
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 Orleans Parish School Board approved the recommendation of the its property committee to allow the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans French-curriculum charter school buy the former Alfred C. Priestley school campus in west Carrollton on Tuesday night, despite protests from an activist group and legal claims by a private developer. Britt Gondolfi and the P-Town Project have been advocating for the transformation of Priestley into a Healing Center-type headquarters for social services and business incubators since prior to the announcement that the school would be put up for sale earlier this summer. With a final vote by the Orleans Parish School Board on Lycee’s purchase offer looming Tuesday night, they reiterated their concerns that the French curriculum will make the school inaccessible for neighborhood children, and that it will contribute to a larger pattern of rising rents and home prices that are driving out black residents. Neighbors and Lycee supporters, however, countered that the services being sought by the P-Town Project are already being offered by a trio of new community centers on the Leonidas corridor: Community Commitment, which is already open and led by longtime organizer Nicole Bouie, the Leonidas House project being developed by Tilman Hardy, and the new headquarters being opened by Trinity Christian Community. Developer Neal Morris of Redmellon also re-stated his belief that state law governing the disposition of surplus school properties is ambiguous, and that his $551,000 offer should have prevailed over Lycee’s bid of $425,500 for the site.
A group of Carrollton neighborhood leaders expressed support for the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans charter school’s plan to reopen the long-shuttered Priestley campus, but many hope the school can do more to benefit all the children of the neighborhood, they said this week. The Orleans Parish School Board placed the Priestley campus on Leonidas Street on its surplus list earlier this year, and state law gives charter schools the first chance to purchase old school buildings before they go to public auction. Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans has expressed interest in buying the campus for a middle school, but a group calling itself the P-Town Project formed in opposition to that plan, saying Lycee’s French curriculum makes it inappropriate for a neighborhood school. P-Town Project supporters made their case before the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association last month, arguing that the Priestley building be given to the neighborhood for a “Healing Center 2.0” with an array of social services and business incubators instead. On Thursday night, supporters of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans in the neighborhood took the podium before the association — not as a debate, said president Barry Brantley, but simply as an opportunity for both sides to present their opinions.
Interest by a French-immersion charter school in buying the long-vacant Priestley school site in west-Carrollton has galvanized a group called the “P-Town Project” into seeking a Healing Center-style home for fresh food and social services there instead. Members of the group discussed their vision Thursday night before the monthly meeting of the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association, which has long fought the renovation of Priestley — most recently as a better location for the students of the former Johnson Elementary school. After Hurricane Katrina, state school officials had briefly included the renovation of Priestley in their master plan for spending $1.8 billion in FEMA rebuilding money, then removed Priestley from the plan but promised to explore the possibility of renovating it. After the Recovery School District closed Johnson, however, the Orleans Parish School Board designated Priestley surplus property. According to state law, charter schools have the right of first refusal to surplus school properties, and after touring the building, officials at the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans sent a letter expressing interest in buying the property as a possible middle school for near its appraisal price of $360,000.
The “Welcome Table,” a new effort led by the Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office, intends to bring people together across racial lines and empower them with grant money to build their own projects to improve Central City and three other New Orleans communities. “We’re going to get some things done,” said Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse said at New Hope Baptist Church in Central City. “The grant will provide seed money to groups who are interested in actually working together to achieve something positive in our city.” When officials introduced the program Monday night, however, they were met with both skepticism that any real results will be accomplished and promises from participants that they will press forward despite their misgivings. Landrieu’s interest in the “Welcome Table” concept — created by the William Winter Institute at the University of Mississippi — dates back to his time as Lieutenant Governor, when he visited the institute with the hope of creating a statewide version of the program in Louisiana, Morse explained.
A long-promised community center slated for west Carrollton received another extension from the New Orleans City Council Thursday afternoon, but the years-old controversy over its management flared again amid traded accusations of secret agendas. Funding for a three-building complex on a vacant lot in the 1700 block of Monroe was first secured by late state Rep. Alex Heaton in 2004. Hurricane Katrina threw the project off track, and the Hollygrove-based Trinity Christian Community later signed on to manage it. The council granted an extension on the project in 2010, but the money remained tied up at the state level while the design of the center was scaled back to fit the budget. In late February of this year, Trinity Christian Community asked the City Planning Commission for another extension on its permission to build, saying that both the design and funding issues had been solved, and the measure passed without opposition.
A long-delayed plan to create a new community center on Monroe Street in west Carrollton — now slated to be a new home for Hollygrove’s Trinity Christian Community — received a thumbs-up from the New Orleans City Planning Commission on Tuesday, and organizers say they now have the funding in line for the project to move forward. The three-building complex is slated for a vacant lot in the 1700 block of Monroe, midway between Hickory and Green streets. Started with funding secured by the late state Rep. Alex Heaton in 2004, the project first received City Council approval in January 2005, but Hurricane Katrina derailed the project and scattered its organizers, said Kevin Brown, executive director of Trinity Christian Community, which has been hailed for its role in reducing crime in Hollygrove. Heaton approached Brown for Trinity Christian Community to get involved, and the Council granted an extension of their permission in April 2010. After that, however, Brown discovered that the funding was contained in a budgetary line-item he could not access, and straightening that out was complicated by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s general opposition to state funding for non-governmental organizations, Brown said.
The owner of a building at the corner of Leonidas and Willow is proposing to change its zoning from residential to neighborhood business for a contractor-training office and community space, raising some questions among surrounding neighbors. Tilman Hardy’s business, CORE USA, trains contractors in building performance, and he plans for it to share space with a community initiative called Leonidas House where neighborhood organizations and community members can meet. He hopes users will keep the space clean and that there will be no need for maintenance costs on that side of the building, he said. “For three or four years we’ve been trying to develop a community-based center for sustainability,” Hardy said. Hardy will request the zoning change from two-family residential to neighborhood business (which also allows restaurants, retail, clinics and other uses) Tuesday afternoon before the City Planning Commission.
Both campuses of Lusher Charter School, “Baby Ben” Franklin Elementary and the International School of Louisiana’s Camp Street campus are all newly slated for renovations under the latest plan to spend the remainder of a $2 billion FEMA payout for school repairs, and Johnson Elementary will have a renewed shot at moving to the Priestly site. Lusher supporters in particular dominated the town hall forums held in Uptown New Orleans over the summer, describing their buildings’ critical structural issues that needed repair. The argument they made, joined in by representatives over other Uptown campuses, is that the rush to build “21st Century” buildings around the city should not take undue priority over the needs of existing programs.
Those concerns were apparently heard by district officials, because the plan released Friday creates an additional category of schools to be refurbished, including many Uptown campuses. Patty Glazer, assistant head of Head of School at Lusher, praised district leaders for their “creative problem solving” with the reallocations. “We’re thrilled,” Glazer said.