In the early 1980’s, so many do not know this, Pontchartrain Beach was THE local destination. It might be coming back.
A new vision for Pontchartrain Beach, which before its decline and closure in the early 1980s had been one of the city’s premier entertainment destinations, would see that section of lakefront shoreline revived as a public park available to all New Orleanians for free. The Pontchartrain Beach Foundation, a non-profit group, is scheduled to pitch to the Lakefront Management Authority on Tuesday a plan to revive the mile-long beach area as a public recreational space which would be safe for swimming, picnics and family barbecues. It would be bookended by a wetlands preserve to the west and by a dog park to the east, and it would include a small marina, an area for food trucks and other vendors and possibly some entertainment venues, according to the proposal, which the foundation released publicly Monday.nola.com
There is history behind this new effort to bring back the beach.
The beach has a history that dates back to the late 1920s, when Harry Batt started a lakefront amusement park that grew over the decades to include rollercoasters, dolphin shows and high-dive exhibitions, as well as annual events like the mock D-Day Normandy beach landings, and regular shows with headliners such as Fats Domino and Elvis Presley. It began during segregation as the lakeside beach for Whites only, with Lincoln Beach in New Orleans East — which is also being assessed for revival — designated as the one for the city’s Black residents. The amusement park reached its prime in the 1950s and 1960s, but saw its visitor numbers decline in later years as lake pollution turned off crowds at the same time as other attractions and resort destinations pulled visitors farther afield. It closed for good in 1983. In March, the LMA, the state body which oversees New Orleans’ public lakefront assets, requested proposals to revive the beach.
This is the only bid and it will be accepted and voted on.
The foundation’s plan is the only one that has been submitted so far, the LMA said. The LMA is expected to approve the plan Tuesday and then hold a formal vote at its next regularly scheduled board meeting. “I’m sure members of the board want to move it forward,” LMA Executive Director Louis Capo said. “It’s a really nice project, and puts one of our assets that has a long tradition back into commerce for the public.” Guy Williams, CEO of Gulf Coast Bank, who founded Pontchartrain Beach Foundation with Michael Liebaert, former head of the charitable Azby Foundation, said he has been lobbying for decades for a revival of Pontchartrain Beach. The gleaming buildings of the University of New Orleans’ nearby research and technology park, which was completed about 20 years ago and re-named The Beach last year, only serve to emphasize the decline of Pontchartrain Beach and the failure of many attempts to bring it back into use, Williams said. “Now, you have those beautiful research buildings at UNO looking out over a homeless encampment,” he said. “It would be wonderful to have a beautiful amenity at its doorstep.”
If the foundation gets the grants, they will start looking for funding including grants.
If the foundation gets a green light, it would then apply for grants from the $550 billion allocated for infrastructure as part of last year’s $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act. President Joe Biden last November appointed former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu as the overseer of of those funds. “The timing of the request for this proposal is critical,” Williams wrote the LMA board in his letter accompanying the proposal for the beach. “Through the American Recovery plan led by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, significant federal dollars are available for projects such as the restoration of the beach. These funds are competitive and will all be allocated soon. We have a short window of opportunity to apply.”
This proposal has local backing.
Others backing the foundation include Zach Kupperman, a property developer; Eugene Joanen, an environmental consultant, and Linda Delaney, a retired executive from public broadcaster WYES. Williams said that the intention of the foundation is simply to revive a public asset and there are no plans for any private development. Indeed, he said, the public alternative they are proposing would preclude a private developer — for example, a hotel chain — which might acquire the right to put a hotel next to the beach and preserve access for its paying customers. That would be reminiscent of the early period of integration when entrance fees were introduced for Pontchartrain Beach in order to exclude Black visitors to the beach, Williams said. “Our sole desire is to restore this amenity to the citizens,” according to Williams. “To that end, we have spent our own money and other philanthropic dollars to further this project with no expectation of receiving anything but the satisfaction of seeing this priceless asset restored and used.”
This is a good idea and one that the community should support. No, not the Alabama and Florida beaches but not the drive either.