Cantrell Eyes Municipal Auditorium As The New City Hall, But What About Rest Of Armstrong Park?

On Tuesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell floated the idea of turning the blighted Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park into the new City Hall.

Cantrell made the off-the-cuff comment at a Bureau for a Governmental Research Breakfast, but her office has refused to answer WDSU’s questions about the idea since.

The former grand ballroom and public hall has been empty since Hurricane Katrina damaged the building in 2005. During former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, the city was at odds with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over how much the federal government would pay to have it restored. And so it sat.

But the auditorium is not the only abandoned building at Armstrong Park.

The Jazz Compound of sand-colored buildings across the pond from the Municipal Auditorium had been leased by the National Park Service until this year. But the buildings were not used and have been boarded up for years. The old firehouse is used as storage. The former jewel of Congo Square, Bamboula Fountain, has been dry since 1983. That’s when the only city employee responsible for maintaining it was laid off, according to Leo Watermeier who lives near the park and is a member of Friends of Armstrong Park. He said the future of the park has largely been left up to chance.

“The park needs a manager,” Watermeier said. “No one is in charge of this park, and that’s a problem we’ve had since the very beginning.”

Jazz in the Park, a fall tradition at Armstrong, just backed out of holding its concert series in the park this year. The organizers said they are moving to Carver Theatre, citing conflicts with the city over proposed improvements they wanted to make at abandoned buildings in the Jazz Compound.

Cantrell did not answer WDSU’s specific questions on Armstrong Park but sent the following statement.

“The city is responsible for all operations and management of Armstrong Park. The departure of Jazz in the Park will not change any operations within the park. The city has a dedicated staff that manages and maintains the park.”

City Council President Jason Williams said the council is determined to make progress restoring the Treme landmark that he calls one of the beautiful and unique assets of New Orleans.

“It’s all going to cost money. I think there is a bit of gray area about who manages what and where those revenues would go, who dictates what would happen there,” Williams said. “But that dates back over a decade and dates back over a number of mayors. So it’s going to be complicated to figure out.”