The Revitalization of Joe Brown Park
[This story is part three of a series of stories highlighting the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s impact on the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.]
Part 1: Sweet Economics – Sugar Bowl Dollars Make Sense for New Orleans and Louisiana
Part 2: More Than Football – The Allstate Sugar Bowl is Far More Than Just a Premier College Football Game
Part 3: The Revitalization of Joe Brown Park
Part 4: The House the Sugar Bowl Built – The Gateway to Big-Time Football in New Orleans
The Revitalization of Joe Brown ParkWhen Joe Brown Park originally opened in 1976, it quickly became a community headquarters for young people in New Orleans East, giving the children of the area a vibrant place to call their own. For nearly 30 years, the park was a community jewel providing recreational opportunities for everyone in the area. And then Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf region in August of 2005. New Orleans East was one of the hardest hit areas of the city – and the 135-acre Joe Brown Park became a wasteland after being swamped by 15-plus feet of water. It was no longer a point of pride, and no longer a happy place for the children or anyone living in the area. Instead, it was a reminder of how bad things were in the region.
An operating principle of the Nike Corporation is to change lives and after Katrina it turned its focus to New Orleans in an effort to do so. The multinational sporting goods company found willing and capable local allies in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Drew Brees Foundation and early in 2011, working closely with city officials, they set out to make a difference at Joe Brown Park. Quickly, a collaborative effort took shape, other partners were identified and a shared vision was born.
“What we’re doing is creating partnerships between the public sector and the private sector,” said Mitch Landrieu, the Mayor of New Orleans. “So Nike, the Sugar Bowl and all these other entities come to the city and say, ‘Listen, if we get together and put all of our nickels in the same jar, what could we possibly create?’ The investment these groups are making is allowing us to create that very special new thing that’s actually going to be one of the best in the country. Not just rebuilding an old playground; we’re not just interested in getting back to where we were before, we’re interested in becoming the model for the country; and we think this particular project, in Joe Brown Park, in New Orleans East, in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city, is going to be that kind of flag that will clearly show people what resurrection and redemption, good partnerships and great dreams really look like.”
Less than two years later, the vision has become a reality. While construction continues, Joe Brown Park is primed to be the premier recreational facility in the city. A brand-new state-of-the-art artificial turf football field and stadium has replaced what had become a vacant, weed-filled lot. An eight-lane track and stadium have sprouted up in the space that was once a parking lot. The main park building, which after Katrina had become a haven for alligators and other small game, now boasts a beautiful hardwood-floored basketball court, as well as an additional multi-purpose court, classrooms, a computer lab and meeting rooms.
“It’s such an honor to have had the opportunity to participate in this project,” said Paul Hoolahan, CEO of the Allstate Sugar Bowl. “To see how far this park has come since Katrina and to have been part of such a great team effort gives our entire organization a great sense of pride. Furthermore, we’re hopeful that this will be the catalyst for similar projects at other facilities in need around the city.”
A key part of the shared vision was that this should not be just a “brick-and-mortar” project. Rather, the plan was to develop a true community project which includes programming aimed at 10-14 year olds in the area that creates a pipeline of sports-loving kids who have had a positive sports experience and are empowered to graduate on to high school athletics.
“Collaborating to develop premier facilities that deliver inspirational and effective programming brings new life to Joe Brown Park and helps usher in a new generation of active kids,” said Elliott Hill, Nike North America Vice President and General Manager. “Our collective efforts to change kids’ lives through sports participation will pave the way for a better New Orleans for everyone.”
Many unique aesthetic touches add to the positive atmosphere of the facility – not the least of which is the word “Victory,” which symbolizes the success of the project and the success of the city in recovering from Katrina – area youth will play on Victory Field, they will run on Victory Track and they will shoot baskets in Victory Gym. Also, carved into the left side of the main entryway to the stadium are giant letters reading “NOLA” and on the right side is “EAST,” exhibiting the pride that area residents have in their community.
But perhaps the most telling touch is a simple block of text on the wall of the tunnel which opens onto the football field, text which could serve as a mantra for the city of New Orleans: “We walk through this tunnel to do battle, to compete with heart and valor. The lessons we learned through history follow us onto the field, the lessons we learn on the field follow us into life. Everyone gets knocked to their knees. But when adversity rushes forward, we meet it with resilience, our city rises. Our uniforms might be different. We may represent different schools and neighborhoods. In the end, we all rise. We are one.”