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New Orleans Waterfront Plan Takes Shape

December 19, 2007

By Shawn Kennedy

A team of architects led by Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, Hargreaves Associates, TEN Arquitectos, and Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, will unveil the final design in February for revitalizing a stretch of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. The broad goal of the redesign is to reduce barriers that discourage people from enjoying the river and replace decaying sections with parks and public venues that will trigger private investment.

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A team of architects led by Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, Hargreaves Associates, TEN Arquitectos, and Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, will unveil the final design in February for revitalizing a stretch of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. The broad goal of the redesign is to reduce barriers that discourage people from enjoying the river and replace decaying sections with parks and public venues that will trigger private investment.

The centerpiece of the project, known as Reinventing the Crescent, is a linear park that devotes nearly 85 percent of the development zone’s 174 acres to parks and plazas, bike and walking paths and venues for river-gazing. Signatures of the design include examples of dramatic, forward-thinking architecture as well as inventive ideas for accommodating the various industrial wharfs and terminals that must be retained for cargo and transportation uses.

“Improving public access to the river is the point,” said Allen Eskew whose New Orleans-based firm is in charge of managing the project. “But the plan gives the city a riverfront design that is authentic for our time and does not just reflect the past.”

If built to completion, proponents say, the riverfront project could trigger $3 billion in private investments, add 4,500 permanent jobs, and increase the city’s tax revenues by $40 million a year. A report detailing which sectors of the economy will see the most investment and jobs is being prepared for the New Orleans Building Corporation (NOBC), which is spearheading the project, and could be released in February.

The redevelopment zone runs for 4.5 miles along the east bank of the Mississippi River from Jackson to Poland Avenues past the Lower Garden district, Warehouse, and Central Business Districts as well as the French Quarter, Marigny, and Bywater neighborhoods.

The designers extended their plan beyond its formal scope by making suggestions for improvements to an area south of the Industrial Canal known as Holy Cross, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

But for some grumbling about the height of proposed residential buildings in the Bywater neighborhood, preliminary designs have drawn mostly favorable reviews from city residents during two, well attended public presentations during the summer.

“They have crafted something remarkable that reaches for world-class excellence,” says Sean Cummings, director of the NOBC, the agency that develops city-owned properties and commissioned the $500,000 design study. Cummings adds that he is particularly pleased the design relates both to New Orleans and its natural environment.

Landscape architect George Hargreaves proposes, for example, transforming a strip of land now dominated by marine businesses into 12 acres of casual recreational space including a section of restored river wetlands. By contrast, a section of the proposed park that passes the central business district would be more urbane and manicured as in a terrace of broad steps leading down to the river at the foot of Canal Street.

Enrique Norten, of TEN Arquitectos, references the serpentine path of the Mississippi with curved silhouettes for some of the proposed structures including a bioenvironmental research center and a hotel in the Warehouse District.

For a warehouse that must be maintained for port use, Alex Krieger, the design team’s urban planner, suggests cutting open a section of the long building for public use, while sheathing the remaining portion in glass to create visual connections with the river.

Delayed by Katrina, the riverfront revitalization scheme, first proposed in 2004, was put back into motion in 2006 after the city and the Port of New Orleans came together on the plan. Strategies for timing, development sequence, and funding will be announced in February.

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