Residents push back on proposed city hall move

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NEW ORLEANS — Opposition is getting louder against Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s attempt to move city hall into the Municipal Auditorium.

Some of that opposition is coming from someone who is part of city hall.

The Save Our Soul Coalition organized the meeting outlining why they do not want city hall to move into the park. Community leaders are concerned Cantrell could damage a historically black neighborhood.

“Take it anywhere else! You can’t have Armstrong Park! It’s not yours,” said Rev. Gregory Manning of Broadmoor Community Church.

The Municipal Auditorium has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina and is in need of major renovations.

Opponents would like to see the auditorium return to use as an event venue or a cultural landmark. The area is also home to Congo Square where musicians have played for decades.

“It’s the epicenter of cultural identity that the people come to New Orleans for. We went through a lot to preserve history,” said Big Chief Dow of the Timbuktu Warriors.

Opponents believe the park is sacred ground. Meanwhile, the city maintains they can’t afford to let this opportunity go.

New Orleans Communications Director Beau Tidwell said, “The Mayor feels pretty strongly that with $38 million on the table, we need to do something with that, and we cannot afford to just let it go.”

The project would be funded through FEMA money available. If it’s not used, the money would be forfeited. In recent days, the city has scaled back its plans. Now, the city wants to use the existing shell and eliminate a proposed parking garage.

“We really want to make an effort to return this space to public use. City Hall is a public building and we want people to have pride of ownership in that.”

Opponents say the money has been on the table for years and could have gone to restoring the auditorium as a performing arts space. Residents believe Cantrell is not listening to what they want. Now, councilmember Kristin Palmer is speaking out.

“I cannot support moving city hall to Armstrong Park,” Palmer said.

Palmer maintains she has listened to all sides adding it’s important to protect the integrity of the Treme neighborhood.

So far, more than 10,000 people have signed a petition hoping to stop the move.

Opponents to the new city hall are also planning a series of meetings.

This Saturday, they will make posters for a rally in Congo Square on June 17.

The Mayor’s administration though is promising a citywide forum to continue the conversation, but a date has not been set.

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