Municipal Auditorium to be reopened, recreated

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by Bill Capo / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on November 10, 2009 at 12:54 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 10 at 1:17 AM

NEW ORLEANS -- Under threatening skies drums, not thunder, sounded outside the Dooky Chase restaurant.

"It is probably the only city in America that could have a hurricane bearing down on it at this moment, and here we are announcing something to the world that is unique," said Mayor Ray Nagin.

Mayor Nagin selected a developer to repair, reopen and recreate the storm damaged Municipal Auditorium.

Ritz-Carlton Hotel owner Stewart Juneau wants to turn the auditorium into a $75 million center for entertainment and the creative industry. Half of the auditorium would remain as a 1,000 theater.

"One of the important things that the mayor and others insisted on throughout was to still have a facility that has the ablity to continue its historical use," Juneau said, "the Mardi Gras balls, the Mardi Gras performances, some of the original night time Jazz Fest stages."

Juneau's plan would replace the other half of the auditorium's main seating area, creating several floors inside the building for a professional incubator to teach musicians the business side of the industry, music production facilities, and even a museum.

"We've got such a great history here, but we haven't invested enough in it," said Musician Irvin Mayfield.  "I think this provides a unique opportunity for Jazz as an industry."

Juneau wants to use the auditorium turned entertainment center to energize and train the local music industry, and give it national recognition.

"I think that New Orleans should be the center of music in America as far as I'm concerned," said an enthusiastic musician Lenny Kravitz.

Chef Leah Chase is talking about developing a culinary institute in the entertainment center.

"Our children need to know about food," Leah said.  "They need to know that. Some of them don't know what a potato is. They just know it when they see it cut up like French Fries."

But the Friends of Armstrong Park organization quickly registered opposition.

"We think the Auditorium should be restored to its original use," said Leo Watermeier of Friends of Armstrong Park.  "And we think it is a shame that the city has delayed restoring it. We think this is just a money grab and a land grab by the mayor and his friends."

The developers are planning a series of community meetings in coming weeks to let everyone who wants to know find out just what it is they want to do with the auditorium. But now the issue goes to the City Council, which must vote on it. However, the developers are hoping to get a quick start on construction, hoping that could begin sometime after the start of the year.

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