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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS -- For decades the New Orleans' Municipal Auditorium was home to graduations, Mardi Gras balls, concerts and more.

But today the city-owned building sits blighted, a haven for squatters years after Hurricane Katrina.

Frustrated neighbors say the city isn't doing enough to bring the iconic landmark back to life.

'It was a beautiful place. It was a place that the neighborhood gathered in,' said Louis Charbonnet III.

In the heart of Treme and just a stone's throw away from the French Quarter sits the now-blighted Municipal Auditorium.

Charbonnet grew up in the neighborhood and remembers the venue in its hey-day -- carnival balls, a casino and even an ice hockey rink.

'It was many, many things to many many people. It was a good economic engine it provided many many jobs for our community. It's just a shame how it is now,' said Charbonnet.

About 5 feet of flood water and roof damage from Katrina is what has kept the auditorium shuttered for nearly a decade. A stalemate between the city and FEMA over recovery money ultimately put the auditorium project on hold.

The city says it has managed to secure $30 million in federal dollars and work is underway, starting with a drainage project that kicked off in January.

'In our neighborhood the city is the biggest slumlord. It shouldn't be that way. FEMA has money and has offered to pay the money,' said Leo Watermeier with Friends of Armstrong Park.

Despite the city's efforts to keep people out, broken windows, a strong smell of urine and other tell-tale signs point to squatters.

Watermeier has documented people sleeping in doorways. He's frustrated by the city's slow response in restoring the 1929 building.

'We've seen that it's been broken into, and there are homeless people living inside of it. We're really afraid that its future could be in jeopardy. A fire could get lit accidentally and the whole building could get destroyed,' said Watermeier

As the New Orleans gears up to celebrate its tri-centennial, neighbors hope their abandoned crown jewel gets the facelift it so desperately needs.

'Being the birth place of jazz -- what, we're celebrating our 300th year? It's just a shame that this building, the auditorium, is the stepchild of the city right now,' said Charbonnet. The Landrieu administration says the city has secured and boarded up the building, also confirming the NOPD monitors the site daily.

The city says in September asbestos and lead paint abatement will begin followed by a stabilization phase.

Construction will continue until October 2015.

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