The beautiful oak-lined West End Park lies in the heart of New Orleans' marina district and provides a true nautical green space surrounded by boathouses and marine-related businesses. West End Park is the focal point of sailing regattas, picnics, games and recreation for all the people of New Orleans and the region.
The 30-acre park was originally constructed in the early part of the 20th century during a massive land reclamation program by the Orleans Levee Board. A large seawall was built 500 feet out into Lake Pontchartrain and was filled in to create this now mature park filled with bike and walking paths
In 1906 the State granted to the City of New Orleans a "right of administration" to the area outside of the levee between the New Basin Canal and the 17th Street Canal. The State also allowed the City to fill for a specified distance out into the Lake. West End Park was developed and the spectacular Darlington Electric Prismatic Fountain (link here) was installed. The State's grant of the "right of administration" while not transferring title to the City, did allow for leasing to third parties (now for slips, boathouses and commercial uses) and the collection of rent, though providing that any such rents must be used at West End and cannot be used by the City elsewhere.
Between 1938 and 1940, as a WPA project, Breakwater Drive was constructed, thus allowing for the construction of Municipal Yacht Harbor. In the 1950s the boathouses were constructed around the perimeter of Municipal Yacht Harbor, with the water bottoms being leased to tenants by the City and the boathouse structures being owned by the tenants. In 1959, the City, with the State's permission, transferred its "right of administration" to the area that is now Orleans Marina (together with the boathouses and businesses surrounding it) to the Orleans Levee District, which then created Orleans Marina. By 1981 a significant refurbishment of Municipal Yacht Harbor was required and approximately $3.5 Million was borrowed from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. In order to facilitate that bond issue, the City formed a public benefit corporation in 1979 - the New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor Management Corporation (MYHMC). At that point, the role of MYHMC was limited to Municipal Yacht Harbor.
Following Katrina, in 2006, the City leased to MYHMC all of its rights at West End. That expanded the geographic responsibility of MYHMC beyond Municipal Yacht Harbor to include West End Park (previously administered by the Department of Parks and Parkways) and to the commercial parcels in the area where Coconut Beach was located and the parking lot where the seafood restaurants used to be. The lease provides that all expenses at West End must be paid for by revenue derived from West End. The City puts no cash into West End.
Governance of West End Park and area
Hurricane Katrina scattered the MYHMC staff and the MYHMC Board. Beginning in 2007, the Board was reconstituted. It became apparent that the expanded responsibility of MYHMC necessitated updating the organization of MYHMC, both from financial and staffing perspectives. Consequently, the MYHMC cash was moved from City accounts to accounts independently held and monitored by the MYHMC Board. The Civil Service Commission and the City Council approved having the two top staff positions for MYHMC be "unclassified" employees, meaning that they can be hired, compensated and terminated at the will of the MYHMC Board and are not subject to civil service limitations. These fundamental changes moved MYHMC to the model of other public benefit corporations that operate more independently of City Hall than MYHMC had previously.
The MYHMC Board is made up of citizens who are appointed by the sole stockholder of MYHMC, the Mayor. Those appointments must be approved by the City Council. And MYHMC, despite that independence, is still subject to the State and City laws and rules governing public bodies, including those rules governing contracting, public meetings, public records, ethics, conflicts, disposition of public property, leasing and the like.
FEMA and Restoring What Was There
The rebuilding of Katrina damaged infrastructure at West End has been slow. However, after the change of administrations in the spring of 2010, that pace accelerated, with (i) the City delegating to MYHMC the responsibility and authority for negotiating the FEMA claims and (ii) the City placing the West End claims on the Priority List (meaning that they can be funded for construction once settlements are reached with FEMA). You can learn much more about the details of the FEMA claims and what is going on with respect to each in the updates on this website under FEMA Claims.
The real economic engine of West End is the leasing of slips in Municipal Yacht Harbor. That accounts for about 80% of the revenue at West End. Consequently, a primary focus of the FEMA claims effort is on the harbor. No one will promise that claim will move along lickety split at this point. But, unlike the period from 2005 through 2010, it is in motion now.
Making West End Better Than it Was
Consequently, the MYHMC Board has initiated a Master Plan process to reach agreement on what the objectives should be over coming years so that those objectives (and some will take quite some time) can be pursued aggressively, but in an orderly and coordinated fashion. Along the western side of the property - where the Jefferson/Orleans line is located - cooperation between the Parishes is required. Fortunately, even before Hurricane Katrina, the Regional Planning Commission (RPC) had begun planning and had held public meetings. That whole process has been reinvigorated and will form a part of the overall Master Plan process for West End.
Additionally, it is clear that public money alone will not make West End what it needs to be. While developers may be an important additional component (for restaurants or retail on the western side, for example) private money will also be necessary for important projects, such as improving the appearance and utility of West End Park. As a consequence, every stakeholder group in the area banded together to form a 501(c)(3) non-profit - Friends of West End, Inc. - to serve as a means of supporting the planning of MYHMC with private fund raising and facilities development that would not be possible simply based on public revenue. Friends of West End has begun an active process with regard to planning in West End Park - planning that is consistent with the Master Plan process of MYHMC and its professionals.
MYHMC retained the late Carlos Cashio - a preeminent architect and planner for Audubon Park and City Park - and his firm, Cashio Cochran, to prepare an initial draft Master Plan for West End. The finalization of that plan will be done through a public process. Once the Master Plan is formally adopted, MYHMC and the City will set about the steps necessary to turn the plans into reality. It will take a while, but the process has begun.
The Future of West End Park
West End Park is an amazing and quiet refuge (well, not really) - but it can become so much more.
A public process is currently underway to develop a Master Plan for the entire West End area, including West End Park. Significant improvements in the park can be expected - what they will include is part of the Master Plan process. Thanks to a generous grant from the Azby Foundation, the 1915 Darlington Electric Prismatic Fountain in the Park has been assessed in order to define what will be required to restore, operate and maintain it.
The Park is available for picnics, games and corporate events. However, reservations are required in advance in order to reserve sections of the Park for your use. Please contact MYHMC's Office Manager, Wayne Bloom, at (504) 523-6472, ext. 275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.