Sometimes, in order to know where one is, one has to look back, just for a frame of reference or, maybe, a sanity check.
For me, driving along Wisner Boulevard the other day in a somewhat sour mood, having reflected on some of the more negative aspects of our city – you know, street lights that still don’t work, sinking streets complete with major potholes, serious public safety issues – I realized how absolutely wonderful City Park looks. Thinking back to what journalist Chris Rose used to call “The Thing” and how it devastated this 1300-acre public park, I decided to check in with Bob Becker, the Executive Director, for a quick update.
He was in a pretty good mood, able to say after six frenetic years of recovery and rebuilding that the park, the 7th most visited in the country, had reached the $100 million mark in its fund raising efforts, almost half of which was dedicated to fixing hurricane damage alone. The remainder (and the fund-raising efforts are not yet over) is being used toward implementing goals in the park’s master plan. Luckily, that had been completed shortly before the hurricane.
“We hope by the end of this year to put in a 36-hole miniature golf course and start construction on a new championship golf course,” Becker said, adding that rather than just replacing things as they were, “we’ve tried to build or rebuild everything in a first-class manner. You know Hurricane Katrina annihilated every building in the park as well as all the equipment and several thousand trees.”
Watching the almost certain death of large sections of this nation’s most valuable stand of ancient oaks as they sat in up to 8 feet of brackish water was just one of the devastating issues Becker had to deal with. Since there was no revenue coming in to a park that has to be financially self-sustaining and a staff reduced from 150 to 23, one could certainly have understood if he had thrown his hands up and fled. But, like so many other devoted New Orleanians, Becker, along with a passionate board of directors and more than 40,000 volunteers, dug in his heels and fixed his institution.
Now, six years later, Becker and his Board can look at what has already been achieved and what they hope to finish in time for the 300th anniversary of New Orleans in 2018. The list is pretty impressive.
For more information aboutCityPark’s plans for the future, go to www.neworleanscitypark.com/plans
Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.