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Legal obstacle removed from new Tulane University’s stadium

25th June 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Chris Villere and Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writers

Tulane University’s plan to reconstruct a football stadium behind the Uptown campus received a boost just over a week ago, when the temporary zoning district — that neighborhood leaders said was essential to control noise and parking concerns — was struck down.

Following a commission staff recommendation that the Interim Zoning District be abolished, the New Orleans City Planning Commission struck down the IZD by a vote of 7–1. Sources within the commission tell The Louisiana Weekly, the move was made due to a concern that businesses would be less encouraged to invest in the area if the IZD continued.

Tulane University officials pledged to “continue to keep a dialogue” with surrounding residents to ensure a new Tulane football stadium is a win-win for all parties involved. However, neighborhood leaders are skeptical.

Prior to the Commission vote, emails flew to members of the surrounding neighborhood organization, nearly begging for residents to show up and grill planning commission members.

One, from the Fontainebleau Improvement Association called the construction of the a 25,000-seat football stadium behind Tulane’s current Reilly Center Athletic Complex a development “that could have major impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.”

FIA president Mark Romig was quick to note that his organization had not taken an official position on the new stadium, just that questions remain unresolved.

The lead critic of the project, Hal Crosby, is quick to note that he remains a Tulane football season ticket holder, and would love to see the stadium built. However, he added in an interview, “Residents want to know specific usage details such as, when amplified sound will be used?” Other concerns center around whether the campus will provide enough additional parking at attractive pricing, so as not to clog the streets of the Broadway and South Claiborne neighborhoods with miles of cars on a Saturday.

“The main conflict,” he ex­plained, “surrounds the terms of use.” Crosby explained that the neighborhood organizations have accepted expansion of athletic complex in the past, as long as the terms were mutually satisfactory. In 1990, for example, the University and surrounding homeowners drafted an agreement regarding the Tulane baseball stadium. Brokered by then-Judge (and the father of current New Orleans mayor) Moon Landrieu, the two sides were able to come to terms over lighting, sound, and parking.

Crosby, and his fellow neighborhood association leaders, have asked the university to place the stadium in the middle of Bruff Quad, rather than at the back of Campus (and close to the location of the original stadium). In the proposal, Tulane’s academic halls would form a sort of shield around the stadium, lessening the impact to the surrounding homes. The plan, though, would require two older dormitories, and McCalister Auditorium, to be torn down.

Yvette Jones, the Executive Vice President of Tulane, effectively said that is asking too much. She contended this would add a significant cost to the project, and create even more issues for both sides.

Jones maintained to this newspaper that the school has already made large concession to the residents by moving both the stadium garbage pickup and the visitor’s locker room. In addition, it was out of deference to homeowners, that one side of the proposed stadium was lowered by four feet.

“What about the parking problems?” Crosby countered, observing that the university has done little to assuage residents concerns that their neighborhoods will not be overtaken by automobiles on game days.

Tulane plans a park-and-ride model, which football ticket holders would park at an off-campus site and would board a shuttle into the game.

Crosby called this an “unsustainable solution”, observing that most people would just choose to park in front of homes, and neutral grounds. Following that explanation to its logical conclusion, one could envision South Claiborne as subsumed by cars and clogged by traffic on game days as it appears during many Mardi Gras.

Jones implied such fears were overblown, noting that many of the 25,000 attendees will be students who live on or near campus, and that total attendance ranks far below parade traffic.

At an alumni luncheon last fall, Tulane University President Scott Cowen argued that the stadium expansion ranks as an essential element for a school “in the middle of a renaissance” following Hurri­cane Katrina.

According to Cowen, Tulane is experiencing record-high enrollments, record-high freshman retention rates. To keep that trend continuing, he contended that an on-campus stadium would help build its football program for the future. That would lead to better recruitment, which would beget better teams, and would lead, therefore, more fans and more contributions to the university.

Fans also foster better—and more profitable—television time for games. That, then leads to high school players wanting to play at Tulane begetting a more lucrative college football program, and ultimately more financial resources for the university.

It is a cycle with which very few of the detractors of the current proposal for the Tulane stadium have disagreed. And there is a general sense that an on-campus venue that will build student interest in going to games, something sorely lacking at the Superdome, where vast sections of seats remain empty to a depressing degree when the Green Wave takes the field.

Cowen has called the restoration of Tulane Stadium “reconnecting with our past” by planning for the future. Prior to the Superdome’s construction, the old Tulane Stadium hosted the Sugar Bowl, often filling that the 80,000-seat stadium to capacity. It was also the site of Tom Dempsey’s record-long 63-yard field goal, and home for several years to the New Orleans Saints.

As one Tulane undergraduate put it to the Weekly, “I hope a new stadium gets built that every single person in the community can be proud of, so we can create a new set of memories, during the heart of Tulane’s renaissance.”

Neighbors, though, worry that these ambitions for the stadium are also part of the problem. Despite Tulane’s repeated promises that the much smaller proposed stadium will center only on college football, some are skeptical. Crosby wondered if music concerts and high school football games might be also welcomed to the new stadium, making parking and noise a daily problem.

Still, the vision of a preeminent football program looms as the driving force behind a new stadium for Tulane, and few are ready to block it. With the IZD removed, only the New Orleans City Council could slow construction of the new facility. And, there appears little evidence that the Council will block what is perceived by university officials and students as essential to the school renaissance.

This article was originally published in the June 25, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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