Comiskey Community Center Takes Center Stage

Wednesday, April 4th’s edition of the Times-Picayune had the latest news and information on the proposed community center at Comiskey.
The community center was also featured on 99.5 FM, as DNA Media CEO Damon Harmon was interviewed. You can download the audio [mp3, 7MB].
Here’s the text of the article in the TP:

Company gears up to start filming the rebirth of Mid-City park
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
By Coleman Warner
Staff writer
Though negotiations with City Hall delayed a hoped-for launch on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a Los Angeles media company will push ahead with plans for building a Mid-City neighborhood center in Comiskey Park and producing a seven-part documentary about the project.
Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. will star in one-hour shows that DNA Creative Media will syndicate for use in television markets around the country.
The company plans to begin airing the shows Nov. 11, just days after completing construction of an elaborate community center and sports complex next to Jefferson Davis Parkway near Tulane Avenue.
“We don’t want to be limited to one network. We want to get maximum exposure across all platforms,” said DNA Creative Media Chief Executive Officer Damon Harman, who will appear at a City Hall news conference Thursday with Gossett, Mayor Ray Nagin and others.
Gossett, founder of the Eracism Foundation and board member for a Los Angeles community center, the Challenger’s Club, was quoted in a trade publication in reference to the Mid-City effort: “I am deeply moved by any project that restores people who are down and out to their proper place in the world.”
Harman said the two-story community center in Comiskey Park will cover 23,000 square feet and will cost about $7 million, a more expensive and larger project than first estimated in January.
The center will provide an elaborate addition to the storm-ravaged New Orleans Recreation Department system and will feature a regulation-size basketball court, a fitness center, a video recording and editing center, play room for small children and an arts-and-crafts room, a small library and a kitchen.
Outside, a pair of baseball diamonds for Little League play, a walking track and play equipment will be added to the long-neglected park that covers one square block.
‘A bit of an anchor’
“It’s going to give people who are trying to rebuild a sense of normalcy in their lives,” said Jennifer Weishaupt, vice president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. “It can give them a bit of an anchor in the neighborhood because it’s going to be so multi-functional.”
The rejuvenated park will serve as a key illustration of how a neighborhood can tap private donations to carry out recovery projects without relying on government grants, Mid-City veterans say. A state economic development official, aware of DNA Creative Media’s interest in launching a rebuilding project in New Orleans, helped the company forge a relationship with Mid-City leaders who have dreamed of building a community center.
Crime, parking and noise concerns led to criticism of the Comiskey project from a few neighbors. Careful attention has been given to site design and traffic flow issues, and a steady presence of police officers will be lured with a police break room in the community building, according to Weishaupt and city officials. But the park will include fewer than 20 parking spaces, and one neighborhood critic, lawyer Chris Wilson, still worries about a creating a wave of new street-parking problems.
“Where are all these people going to park if they have a huge event?” he said.
Nagin’s administration last week identified Comiskey Park as an anchor for unspecified plans for funneling recovery monies into Mid-City area.
$10 million to be spent
The park is about a dozen blocks from a 20-acre tract of land that a Georgia development company, Victory Real Estate Investments LLC, is assembling between Jefferson Davis Parkway and North Carrollton Avenue to provide space for national-chain retailers. That plan drew strong opposition during a neighborhood meeting Monday evening.
Nagin spokesman James Ross said the park changes have strong neighborhood backing and fit nicely into the broader recovery plan. “This is an opportunity to create a public asset at no cost to the city,” he said.
While the City Council representative for the area, Stacy Head, and at-large Councilman Arnie Fielkow gave early support to the plan, months of City Hall deliberations, including reviews by the mayor’s office and planners, raised the specter of a withdrawal of the donation offer. The company initially wanted to start construction by this month in order to finish the building and documentary by Katrina’s second anniversary.
Harman now has agreed to push back the airing date, saying the ground-breaking will occur in June and that construction will be finished around the end of October.
DNA Creative Media and other sponsors will spend a total of about $10 million on the Comiskey Park project, including design and promotional costs, Harman said.
The documentary, showcasing a frenzied rebuilding effort, will cast New Orleans music, food and culture in a positive light, he said.
And the film company has a bigger construction and filming agenda in New Orleans, with tentative plans for buying an office building and launching a church restoration project on the West Bank. Details on that effort weren’t released.
“We’re not coming in to just do a project and leave,” the 30-year-old Harman said. “We want to be here three to five years. We hope to help rebuild New Orleans block by block, and get proper media exposure and television exposure so that the world remembers that New Orleans is forever — and the rebuilding has begun.”
. . . . . . .
Coleman Warner can be reached at or at (504) 826-3311.

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