Now that school’s back in session and my daughter’s back in daycare, I’m back to riding on the Jeff Davis bike path each morning on my way to work. That takes me past Comiskey Park and a sad tableau of signage for a community center that never materialized. I thought to myself a couple times over the past couple weeks that I should stop and take a photo. It would be one of those shots that tells much of the story all by itself.
Then, yesterday morning, I opened the paper to discover Eliot Kamenitz beat me to it. Imagine — scooped by a professional photographer.
So on the way home yesterday I snapped my own version. Better late than never.
I remember in late 2006 that a company named DNA Creative Media approached Mid-City Neighborhood Organization with a somewhat unusual proposition. They wanted to make a “reality show” about building something in New Orleans. One idea being floated was a community center at Comiskey Park in Mid-City, but they were also looking at other sites. MCNO rallied a bunch of neighbors to turn out and greet the producers when they visited Comiskey on November 29th of that year. I stopped by on my way home from work to support the cause. Many neighbors had made signs with slogans like “DNA + Mid-City = A Perfect Match.” In short, as a community we pulled out all stops to land this deal.
Apparently the producers were impressed by the warm reception. In some other neighborhoods they’d visited, people were more skeptical.
Perhaps we should have been more skeptical too. The whole thing struck me as bizarre. But remember, we were still in full-on recovery mode. Our future was far from clear. We were still living in a surreal landscape of destruction. We were desperate.
For a while things looked like they were proceeding according to plan. It was announced that Louis Gossett Jr. would host the show. Neighbors developed a wishlist for features they wanted to see. Soon, plans for a beautiful community center were unveiled. Here’s a description from the neighborhood discussion group:
The center will be a 2-story building which will include an indoor NBA-sized basketball court; a 4-station kitchen with commercial grade appliances (to be used for cooking classes and demos); and a general purpose room for meetings, theater, dance & exercise. A state-of-the-art computer lab with Internet access will encourage research by students of all ages as well as allowing families and friends still divided by the Katrina evacuation to keep in touch by email. The contract between DNA and the City was signed on February 6th. Demolition of derelict buildings on the site and construction of the new center is planned for later this year.
You can even listen to Damon Harman of DNA describe the project.
Some preliminary work began. In May of 2007 I took this photo.
Some time after the piles were driven, work stopped. In October we read in the paper that the project was bogged down in governmental red tape. In March 2008 we learned that DNA was filing for bankruptcy. They were also facing a lawsuit from Paul Davis National, the contractor (based in Wisconsin) they’d hired. Paul Davis claimed DNA still owed them money for work completed.
And that’s brings us back to yesterday’s article by Masako Hirsch and Gordon Russell. It seems the City of New Orleans will have to pay the $700,000 owed to Paul Davis National.
Doesn’t seem quite right, does it? What I have to wonder — was the whole thing a scam from the beginning, or was it an “honest” bit of incompetent business, or did this run afoul of the global economic downturn, or did government bureaucracy slow things down so much it wrecked the project?