Monday, 12 July 2010 18:42

Louis Armstrong Park And Disaster: New Orleans Nagin Has Found His Legacy

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jeffcrouere_150_200Believe it or not, the Nagin administration was worse than we imagined. The administration’s incompetence, mismanagement, embarrassments, and lack of leadership were well known by local observers. Yet, until Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech last week, we did not know the extent of the city’s fiscal mess.

As Landrieu outlined last week, the city has a budget deficit of $67 million, which he will have to address through severe budget cuts. A $72 million reserve fund is now gone, with very little to show for it. The fiscal mismanagement was mind boggling and included huge technology contracts and wasteful spending on such items as storage for unused furniture.
Nagin left another mess for Landrieu, the destruction of Armstrong Park. This park should be a centerpiece attraction for New Orleans. It represents one of the true icons in the history of New Orleans, Louis Armstrong. Tourists from around the world descend on New Orleans to pay tribute to Armstrong. Yet, the park is now closed to the public, a true mess that is shielded by fences. 

In the final months of his term, Nagin was busy trying to find some sort of legacy. His dreams for a new city hall among other grandiose projects all failed. So, Nagin chose Armstrong Park as the location for a sculpture garden representing major figures in New Orleans history. The problem is that the project cost millions of dollars, which could be better spent on vital infrastructure projects. Despite opposition from neighbors and the City Council, Nagin was able to secure money from the Wisner Foundation and the project was launched. . To complete the project, Nagin hired a firm, A.M. E. Disaster Recovery Services which was founded by a convicted felon, Burnell Moliere.

To complete the project before his term ended in May, A.M.E. crews worked twenty four hours a day. Unfortunately, in their haste to complete Nagin’s mission, the work was performed in a sub-standard manner. Some of the commissioned statues were never completed and the park turned into an eyesore. The company was unable to complete basic assignments such as concrete sidewalks and then damaged the signature piece in the park, the statue of Louis Armstrong.

The statue is now being held together by ropes after the bronze left shoe of the icon was removed from the base. The statue was incorrectly moved and the bronze was stretched by workers with no expertise in handling bronze sculptures.

Fortunately, Mayor Landrieu has fired A.M.E. Disaster Recovery Services; an aptly named company for the firm has truly been a disaster from which the park will hopefully recover. Art restoration experts will have to be hired and a new firm will have to complete the mess left behind by Nagin. 

In the meantime, Nagin did succeed in creating a legacy for his administration.. The Armstrong Park project is a fitting symbol for the Nagin years, over budget, broken and an eyesore for all to see.

Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m.weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. For more information, visit his web site at E-mail him at [email protected]
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