Battered by Katrina's water and its winds. Tuesday, the city revealed a radical change for downtown New Orleans. The Governor and Mayor announced the first major investment in the city since the hurricane, a new jazz park and concert hall, to reshape a battered part of downtown.
"We are beginning to put the building blocks together for a new, a brand new New Orleans," said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.
This would mean bulldozing two city blocks that include city hall, two court buildings and a downtown mall, which remains closed since Katrina.
"Someone should be doing something about cleaning up this area," Sylvia Steib said.
The 20-acre park would be similar to Chicago's Millennium Park. Opened two years ago, that successfully revitalized a neglected part of its downtown. But the cost of New Orleans' project could run upwards of 715 million dollars.
Private investors have secured half the money. Developer Laurence Geller said, "to the city and the state, you've all got to show your commitment to this, because otherwise it's why should we?"
The city must come up with at least 100-million dollars and hopes FEMA and insurance payouts will cover the rest. "If we can't find a 100 million dollars for a project this special, shame on us," mayor Nagin said.
At the center of the plans is the city's Hyatt Regency hotel which has been closed since the hurricane hit. The 12-hundred room hotel became famous during the storm. Katrina's winds shattered New Orleans' third largest hotel. Since then, crews have been gutting the 27-story building, preparing it for a complete overhaul and to reopen next year.
"Under the cover of the book, there's a lot going on," explained Irby Morvant of the Hyatt hotel.
Aside from the Hyatt, a new city hall and courthouse would also ring the park.
Although, not everyone's excited. Cathy Ton runs a small restaurant near the site and isn't sure a new park is what the city needs.
"If it's a tourist attraction, will it really bring in more customers, tourists," asked Ton. "I'm not so sure about that."
Investors promise the project will provide thousands of jobs and billions of dollars. More importantly, city leaders say, a blue print for a new New Orleans.
by Jonathan Betz