National Jazz Center Park Planned For Central New Orleans

Strategic Hotels & Resorts has proposed a plan to build a 20-acre national jazz center and park in the center of New Orleans, to be designed by Pritzker Prize winner, Thom Mayne.

"Hyatt has fronted nearly $3 million of the project’s development so far, and executives with the hotel company say they have about $400 million in financing lined up. About 53 percent of the project’s financing would be private. Developers now need to work with public agencies, explore tax credit projects, approach foundations and seek additional investors to put together the rest.

Under the plan one million square feet of public buildings, including city hall, Orleans Parish Civil District court, the old Supreme Court building and the old state office building would be demolished, along with the city hall garage, the New Orleans Shopping Center and parts of the Hyatt to make way for a park anchored by the 25,000-square foot National Jazz Center.

City hall would move to the 26-story Dominion tower office building, which has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina, and where dozens of its storm-broken windows still are sealed with plywood. State offices would be rebuilt at the site of the Civil District Court building, and the entrance of the Hyatt would move to Loyola Avenue.

The multi-level six-block park will include a 20,000-square foot jazz performance center with seating for 1,000 people, a black-box theater with seating for 300 people, a 70,000-square foot amphitheater with lawn seating, a 60,000 square foot education center for children, rehearsal studios available to local musicians and an archive for jazz research.

The Superdome would be connected to the park with a bridge, and the park will be decorated with statues, fountains, and interactive displays. Poydras Street will become a tunnel covered by acres of grass in an art park that will also double as a tail-gating area for the Arena and Superdome."

Full Story: Plan would reshape downtown to build Jazz Center



Thom Mayne's New Orleans Theme Park

Though it is a public-private venture, it sounds to me like this project meets the definition of a theme park: it is a large area of land developed around the theme of jazz and meant to draw tourists.

Avant-gardist critics love Thom Mayne and say that New Urbanists build projects that look like theme parks.

But the reality is very different. The New Urbanists came up with a plan that would let New Orleans be developed on a small-scale, like a traditional city. Hyatt Hotels came up with the idea of developing central New Orleans as a corporate-scale theme park and hired Thom Mayne to design it. The New Urbanists redesigned the city to make the sort of place where residents want to live, and Thom Mayne designed a theme park meant to draw tourists.

This is what starchitects have been doing since Gehry's museum in Bilbao: designing buildings that are not good places to be but that are flashy enough to attract tourists. These avant-gardists are the real theme park architects.

Charles Siegel

More "Big Plans"

Why are we constantly caught between the "Modernists" and the "New Urbanists" in seeking to heal the wounds brought on by Hurricane Katrina last year. What Thom Mayne wants to design for a privatized, avant-garde, theme park for upper middle class Caucasian yourists and businesspeople, the same can be said about the New Urbanists, designing walkable, transit-oriented, venacularly-correct neighborhoods and communities.

The whole BNOB planning effort by Ray Nagin and the Urban Land Institute/Calthorpe/WRT/etc etc was a total waste of time, and did nothing to bring low-income black residents back to their communities.

The in-fighting between the New Urbansist and the Modernists is nothing more than a ego-based pissing contest, fought by such loud mouths as Andres Duany, Thom Mayne, Peter Calthorpe, and Reed Kroloff.

In a perfect world, we would see a state/federal partnership overseeing the planning and reconstruction of New Orleans (nothing elaborate, we don't need these grand CNU charrettes, fancy ULI "expert panels", or Modernist visioning sessions in Holland). Just decent homes, clean roads, workable infrastructure, attractive landscaping, and a sense of normalcy...

Not As Simple As Decent Homes and Clean Roads

Building "decent homes, clean roads, workable infrastructure, attractive landscaping" is clearly the main task.

But there are also important political and design decisions to make: Will we build those homes in walkable neighborhood or auto-dependent neighborhoods? Will we build transit-oriented development or freeway-oriented development?

Global warming is expected to cause more extreme weather, and if we want to avoid future hurricanes that do even more damage than Katrina, we need environmentally sound urban design.

There are undoubtedly egotists in both groups. But the New Urbanists are working for walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development, while the avant-gardists are just making esthetic statements about architectural style.

Charles Siegel

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