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Tulane President, Unviersity Neighbors Meet in Stadium Forum



Leaders of Tulane and the City offered themselves up to a public forum Wednesday night that was designed to lay out the plan for gameday activities at the Uptown institution's proposed on-campus stadium. NoDef's Ryan Sparks was there to take in all of the hopes and fears.

 

Although it wasn’t necessary to utilize a Park and Ride shuttle to the Audubon Tea Room Wednesday evening, the third public forum hosted by Tulane University and SMG consultants regarding a new 30,000-person capacity football stadium was a crowded affair, and parking was a bit of a hassle.  

 

At the outset, Councilwoman Susan Guidry put to rest the idea that the hastily-enacted Interim Zoning District would continue to give any leverage to any citizen or neighborhood group aligned against the construction of the stadium.  At Thursday’s meeting the City Council will accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation that the IZD be deflated and stored for later use against other New Orleans institutions hell-bent on erecting structures in full accordance with their predetermined zoning laws.  

 

Mayor Mitch took the mic after Guidry to reaffirm his belief in community input by saying, “You gotta have an opportunity for the community in open discussions to talk to you about what their concerns are.”  

 

Landrieu did not stick around to risk having his faith in the necessity of public feedback shaken by the dialogue that followed. Shortly after he left, however, City Councillors Jackie Clarkson and Diana Bajoie arrived to partake in the bountiful buffet of back-and-forth.

 

The remainder of the meeting ran at the pace of tag-team Greg Otis and Doug Thornton. Otis represents GBBN, the architectural firm who are designing Tulane Stadium 2.0. Thornton is with SMG, an international venue management firm that operates the Superdome and is giving Tulane a crash course in operating a modern stadium. The pair learned a lot about their opposition’s prejudices in two previous public forums, and obviously placed a lot of faith in a 12-page FAQ that held the answers to 55 trending concerns of citizens.

 

As best they could, Otis and Thornton summarized all that would come down upon the University neighborhood six or seven times a year during a Tulane home game. Wednesdays and Thursdays will see small delivery trucks use Ben Weiner Drive to deliver concessions to the stadium’s commissary and possibly some on-field practice by both the team and the marching band. On Friday, a giant on-site trash compactor will be completely emptied in preparation for the mounds of trash produced by the rabid Tulane football fan base in attendance. News media trucks and vans will drive down Audubon Boulevard and take up their assigned spots behind Turchin Stadium.

 

In the event that the game will be televised on ESPN, there may be two large equipment trucks on campus in addition to local media vans. Whether ESPN would be broadcasting a Tulane home game before or after Halley’s Comet next visits our solar system remained unclear.  

 

A few slides concerning pregame activities revealed that about four hours before game time, several locations on campus would operate as designated tailgating areas. These include Gibson Quad, the LBC Quad, areas around the dorms on both Newcomb and McAlister, and a new plaza to be built outside the stadium. No dormitory residents were on hand to grumble about the noise pollution that might emanate from such events. But it was made abundantly clear that TU security officers and contracted litter abatement teams would be patrolling campus nonstop before and during the game. Tailgaters can expect a plethora of sponsored tents.

 

During the Q&A period, Otis played MC and for the most part succeeded in pointing out questions that had been answered both in previous forums and in the supplied FAQ, but more than once locked horns with a member of the community whose sentences ran more to the declarative rather than the inquisitive. The audience consistently heckled the panel, hissed, and expressed their frustration at the process by throwing up their arms whenever someone acknowledged that a final decision had not yet been reached. Supporters of the stadium were a silent minority, if not completely absent. 

 

Control of aggressive out-of-town fans Fears spread around the meeting about groups of college students from Tulane opponents like Rice and UCF marauding through neighborhoods and defacing public monuments. This might seem far-fetched and humorous. However, this correspondent has spent considerable time with Eastern Carolina students, and advises giving them a wide berth.

 

Trash pickup on non-game days It seems that the stretch of Broadway close to campus is already susceptible to fluttering trash even without a football game nearby, and Tulane University does very little to collect trash along this city thoroughfare beyond relying on the kindness of the Greeks. Members of the neighborhoods west of Broadway chose to take the opportunity to voice concerns that Tulane would not voluntarily assist the city in trash collection outside campus limits. Others wondered why taxpayers should be burdened with the costs of collecting trash and litter along city streets and sidewalks.  

 

Neighborhood drainage  The forum also became a sounding board for Sewerage and Water Board concerns. Most of New Orleans citizens are familiar with the phenomenon of a backed-up storm drain or the occasional block made impassable by only a few inches of steady rain. The entire citywide system is aged beyond acceptable use, and drainage in the university area is no exception. Some citizens put forth the radical idea that local businesses should shoulder the load of repairing drainage and sewer systems long neglected by actual city departments by virtue of their proximity. The panel, to their credit, remarked that they are in deliberation and constant communication about drainage issues with the city instead of giving the less-popular response, “That’s not our job, man.”

 

Vox Populi Much of the dialogue hinged on the request that Tulane venture out beyond the borders of the campus. The should not only provide security, trash pickup, and drainage engineering, the community members said, but also establish quasi-governmental advisory boards stuffed full of representatives that would help advise Tulane towards a more perfect union with neighborhood groups.

 

Cowen Speaks

After the Q&A, Tulane President Scott Cowen finally took the microphone, as advertised.  To appease previous worries, he led with the promise that, “We are prepared to enter with the city an enforceable agreement. That agreement will cover many of the topics that have been of concern to you. From usage to noise to lighting.  On the one hand we want to be responsive and codify the answers that we have given to you so that you will have comfort…and on the other hand I hope you will respect that in some cases we have to maintain flexibility.”

 

He emphasized that this process is going to take “several months to get through,” and that Tulane had been doing its due diligence with the city through this “evolving process.”  Both he and the panel agreed that more public forums should be forthcoming after more details are confirmed, though none have been scheduled.  

 

During the Q&A Cowen deferred many specific answers back to the panel, but always remained confident and eager to dissipate conjecture.  One Audubon Boulevard resident confronted him with the evening’s most uneasy moment.  She had been gesturing and heckling all night and finally got ahold of a mic.

 

“I am scared to death. I’m scared about my property values. I’m scared about my quality of life. I feel like basically what my husband had worked for our entire lives is being taken away, and if it can happen to us it can happen to anybody," she told Cowen and the room. "My legs are shaking, I’m scared.  I’ve had horrible things happen to our family in this city.  Recently there was a plane or a helicopter buzzed acrost our house for two months, and when I called Tulane security they said they didn’t know what it was.  It was always heard after 11 o’clock at night. What I eventually found out on accident was there was a movie being made on Claiborne. It felt like a terrorist attack.”  

 

Cowen left the talk of helicopters and terrorists to higher authorities, and instead repeatedly hit on the talking point that Tulane would strive to do its best, though perfection is always out of the question.  

 

Once it became clear that Cowen would not be cowed, the number of raised hands dwindled and the meeting finally adjourned.  Discussion continued as panel members, Tulane staff, and members of the traditional media all paired off for further discussion. Eventually, though, the crowd dissipated, leaving behind empty plastic bottles, wrinkled pretzel wrappers, and crumby cake plates strewn about the tea room.

Good job Ryan. I have many

Good job Ryan. I have many years of experience dealing with public forums and I like your style of addressing in your piece each side's point of view. However, my guess is if you want to carry on conversations about this matter you'll have to remove your tongue from your cheek. Nice finish.

Will Tulane be distributing

Will Tulane be distributing tin foil hats to the neighbors before each game? -and if so, will they pick them up after?

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