NEW ORLEANS – The last swath of riverfront in the city’s historic center that remains blocked by warehouses and wharves will eventually open to the public, creating an uninterrupted 3-mile stretch of green space along the riverbank from Crescent Park to Spanish Plaza.
The city announced the plan Wednesday that will include an elaborate swap of the city-owned Public Belt Railroad to the Port of New Orleans in exchange for the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves at the downriver end of the French Quarter.
Officials with the port will work with “hospitality partners,” the city said, to find about $15 million to convert those wharves into public park space.
Most of that money will likely be contributed by the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which brings in nearly $60 million a year from state-approved hotel taxes, a sales tax on food and drinks sold throughout the city and other assessments, The New Orleans Advocate reported.
In a prepared statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu described the plan as a “win-win for all involved,” noting benefits both to the public and business community.
“It is clear that the Public Belt Railroad is a critical element of the Port’s competitive advantage, which means it is critical for the future growth potential in trade and commerce and the long-term economic success of the City,” Landrieu said. “Also vitally important is our ability to open up our special riverfront to the public.”
Some public access to the spaces now blocked off is expected by next year.
The wharves that today are still in use for industrial purposes lie between Crescent Park, which sits on repurposed wharf sites, and the Moonwalk, a stretch of riverfront across from Jackson Square Landrieu’s father, Mayor Moon Landrieu, helped to open to the public in the 1970s.
That area, too, was once an industrial area that severed the public's access to the waterfront.
If approved, the agreement would end Landrieu’s push to find a private company to oversee the Public Belt Railroad, which manages nearly 30 miles of track and connects six major rail lines that serve the port and other industrial facilities.
The port’s Board of Commissioners and the Public Belt Commission will hold special meetings to consider the plan on Friday and Monday, respectively.
The two wharves that are part of the proposed swap are leased to the Jensen Companies, a transportation firm and logistics firm, that has a dozen years remaining on a 15-year lease.
City Hall said Jensen would shift to “a location that recognizes and supports their business needs and is suited for their projected long-term growth.”
The Advocate reported there is speculation among some local economic development officials that the port could try to replace the lost space at the Gov. Nicholls and Esplanade wharves by acquiring the site of the former Avondale shipyard on the West Bank.
The city did not mention if that is, in fact, a part of the port’s long-term plans.
New Orleans Advocate Richard Thompson contributed to this report.