Letter from the Director: Journey of the Community Pavilion
Recently, part of my job description has come to include educating community members on the Hammond Downtown Development District’s (DDD) pavilion project. These citizens are often those who have stopped in the DDD office or attended the Farmers Market with questions, and I’m delighted to say they leave our office more enlightened and even anxious for the project to break ground. We believe our ability to provide facts and remain transparent with our community has allowed us to have the support we have today. Therefore, we’d like remind you of the nearly two decade long pavilion process that brought us to where we stand today.
The idea of a pavilion originated in the 2002 DDD Master Plan update. This plan was created with input from 80 citizens, business persons, city officials and the Hammond DDD Board and staff. The 2002 plan states:
“A permanent facility for the existing Farmer’s Market should be built. This facility will initially handle 30 to 50 vendors and should be located on the west side of the railroad tracks between Hanson and Coleman streets. The facility should be duplicated on the east side of the tracks at a later date. The open air facility will include drive-in parking for vendors and will have public restrooms, electricity, plumbing, a concession space, a plaza for arts and crafts vendors, a small stage for entertainments and storage for DDD activities and outdoor events.”
Conversations of a pavilion began 16 years ago. By no means could this project be described as being executed hastily, and we are proud of the passion that has kept this project alive all these years! Our current plans pay homage to the 2002 description, checking off each detail with the exception of one, the location.
The original site between Coleman and Hanson Street is owned 50% undivided by CN Railroad and 50% by the Cate family estate. When I began at the DDD nearly 4 years ago, the design committee and Board of Directors were already aggressively pursuing this location. We have a working relationship with the Cate estate, so it was the CN portion that was the biggest concern. Most have never experience buying or leasing property from the railroad, but let me assure you, it’s no easy task. With ample support and dozens of attempts, the conversations with railroad representatives slowly began. CN was and is still unwilling to sell the property. A lease was drawn up, but included extreme liability clauses. For example, if CN were to have a train derail, or if a life was taken at the fault of the railroad or their conductor, the City of Hammond and/or the DDD would be held responsible. Even after the best of attempts, CN would not negotiate the terms of the lease. In the end, that’s not a gamble any of your elected officials or the DDD were willing to take.
Discouraged, the search for a new location began. Members of the board gathered information, considering locations all over the district. We’ve attempted to buy property to be left with responses like, “Sure! I’ll sell you the property for $800,000.” We’ve considered locations further away from the center of town only to be met with a valid concern that the facility would be disconnected from the heart of Downtown. Location after location was discussed. I’m not sure when the area between the DDD and La Caretta was proposed, but in doing so, the project seemed possible again. Day after day, I sit at my desk and witness this area being underutilized. Occasionally, a tourist will stop to admire the Stewart monument, but more often than not, this space is used as a pet relief station. This is an area the DDD needs to improve.
The 2002 Master Plan includes an urban park at this location, recognizing John Desmond’s vision for the DDD building to be used as an observation deck. Our Master Plan states the following:
“Hammond has no real central public gathering space. In the Charrette, some respondents noted that their favorite spot downtown was the outside seating in front of La Caretta, restaurant. A downtown urban park in the area just south of the restaurant and north of the DDD offices should be built. This formal, landscaped plaza is envisioned as an area for locals and tourists to gather, to sit, to rest, to read or just to enjoy the hustle and bustle of Downtown Hammond.”
We hit the streets with the idea. We’ve met with farmers market vendors, city officials, merchants, property owners, even the rotary club and local church organizations about the location. Building the pavilion here does a number of positive things for the community, but let’s discuss some major ones.
First, despite the project price tag, the DDD is being conservative with tax payer funds. The land at this location does not need to be purchased. It is owned by the city. We will be able to sustain our current practices and continue to support our merchants. This goal will never be compromised. Also, by combining the pavilion project and the urban park project we’re not only recognizing that they share the same mission, we are completing two projects for the price of one. Are we investing a substantial amount on this project? Yes, considering we want it to be sustainable and timeless for decades to come. Overall, this location is not only the most cost effective but truly makes the most sense according to our master plan. Can you imagine if the DDD had to purchase land, build the pavilion and then construct an urban park? What would the price tag be then?
Second, I’d like to, again, stress how underused this space is. Remembering the history of this space is indeed important, but considering its current state, we believe we can do so while being progressive. This space does not breathe life except for Saturday morning. The DDD is showing its respect for its past by optimizing the space and using our knowledge and resources to tell its story. The concept for the project mimics a historic train station, recognizing that this space is where travelers once stepped off the train into our great city. The addition of the pavilion and the urban park plaza will breathe new life and hopefully, creativity into this city’s underutilized center.
Third, the scope of this project extends further than just an open air pavilion. We’ve taken into consideration several improvements that can be made in this area. The parking spaces along Railroad Avenue currently back into a state highway. These will be changed to safer parallel parking spaces. By doing this, the city is losing 3 parking spots. Fully aware of this, the DDD has dedicated funds to district-wide parking additions, contributing to at least two or three dozen additional spots in the last three years. This central location of Downtown also lacks complete sidewalks: The DDD intends to renovate sidewalks around the entire block to ensure a pleasurable and safe pedestrian experience.
The historic oaks trees on site are currently receiving the best care available. Before considering this location, the professionals of Bayou Tree Service were contacted. They’ve worked with this project through each phase to ensure these trees survive. The footing of the pavilion is custom designed at the recommendation of Bayou Tree Service in order to preserve and protect them to our full ability. Permeable paving will be installed in the plaza and will also replace a portion of the concrete in the current alleyway. The oaks will continue to be guarded and treated with the utmost respect throughout the entire process and long afterward.
The Stewart monument will be carefully relocated a few yards from its current location. Alfortish Memorials-Mausoleums of New Orleans specializes in the relocation of landmarks. It has been discussed in great detail the importance of the monument and its history. We trust these professionals to do the job correctly and without fault. In the extremely rare case that the monument is damaged in the process, the DDD has insurance and intends to take full responsibility of the monument’s care and restoration. The decision to relocate was made after many conversations, one of which was with the Hammond Historic District who supported the decision by voting yes to the project and the new monument location.
The topic of green spaces is often misinterpreted. Green spaces are an area of grass, trees, or other vegetation set apart for recreational purposes in an urban environment. While the DDD is removing grass for the location, we are retaining vegetation on site. A crucial part to the above definition is urban areas. Tangipahoa Parish is not experiencing a deficiency of green space. Hammond alone houses Cate Square Park, Zemurray Park, Clarke Park, Jackson Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Mooney Park, North Oaks Park, and Chappapeela Sports Park. Generally, most citizens in the area do not live in high rises, and a majority can easily access green spaces at any time. What we are adding to the location is called a “third place.” By definition a “third place” is a place where people choose to spend their time outside of their home or job. There are a limited number of public locations in Downtown where this can be done without being expected to pay. This location will now provide those services to our community. It will be an engaging and interactive space where people can feel safe to just sit awhile. Whatever it is you’re using the new pavilion and urban park for, you’ll have restrooms, shade, cover from the weather, seating, tables, and free Wi-Fi.
The Hanson Crossing Project was always a separate goal from the current pavilion project. Since the 2002 Master Plan, the DDD envisioned gateway elements on all 4 sides of the district. This location sits at the entrance to the core of Downtown. When commerce began to boom near the location of the crossing, the DDD took action to prepare. Square 71 was built, a new parking lot was installed, large groups began utilizing the Mezzanine and the BBQ challenge grew in popularity. All of these actions encouraged the DDD to install a safe crosswalk over the railroad tracks to protect its citizens, while remaining creative and showcasing our culture and history.
The Cate family estate donated the parcel of land where the pavilion and urban park will sit to the City of Hammond. The stipulations agreed upon require the space to be used as a public plaza, maintain a monument and hold the Chamber of Commerce or other public occupancy in the building. The terms of their agreement have not been altered. All of these stipulations are being maintained while consulting with the city attorney to ensure its legality. A representative of the Cate Family provided a letter of support for the project before the design phase initiated. This location will remain a public space. You can rent it out through the same procedures as other Hammond public parks. The price tag associated with renting is still being considered. The DDD will conduct detailed research and engage the public for thoughts and concerns before agreeing on guidelines. For the DDD, this isn’t about increasing our funding, it’s an economic investment.
The facility will be built by the DDD and then be donated to the City of Hammond. Both parties will enter into an agreement where the DDD will be the leasee of the property. Conversations with the Mayor, his administrative team and attorneys have taken place and documentation has been prepared. Given the longevity of this project, the DDD has adequately prepared funding of this magnitude. This project will not and is not effecting our current budget thanks to the planning of past board members and directors. The DDD applied for a $300,000 bond in order to preserve some of its excess funding. By taking this extra step, we will be able to continue our contributions to public improvements within the DDD.
The DDD has gone to great lengths above the legal minimum to ensure the community is fully aware of the pavilion project. We’ve spoken at rotary meetings and church organizations. We’ve advertised on the radio, in print and on social media. The plans have been available on the DDD website and on all the public meeting agendas for quite some time. This project is a community led project. The design of the pavilion has been community based, starting in 2002, again in 2011 with a second set of charettes, and has transformed into how it is currently designed thanks to your community. Since the project has been at its current location, the staff has launched a campaign to increase community awareness. For weeks, the plans have been available at the Farmers Market. The project was heard throughout the community on KSLU, Johnny in the Morning and Wake up Kajun Kountry. An invitation was publicized on June 6th for our public meeting on June 13th asking citizens to attend. Newsletters, radio ads and social media were used. The newsletters and social media postings alone reached 3,283 people. Every meeting the DDD hosts is an advertised public meeting with public comment encouraged.
I’d like to conclude with drawing attention to the economic impact this pavilion could have on the community. If you examine cities all along interstates 10 and 12, each have a facility similar to our projected end result. Abita, Covington, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Gretna and even Ponchatoula have a covered vendor and event space. These structures and urban parks are trending among Main Streets due to their high community impact and flexibility. It brings people together. It brings people Downtown and it entices patrons to shop local, ultimately, benefitting our merchants. Not only will people get to enjoy the space, they’ll be doing it in the center of town and in the presence of history. What the DDD is developing is historic, modern, and beautiful. The journey has been lengthy, by no means could this project be described as rushed, careless, or hasty. It’s an idea 16 years in the making that has come to its final stages thanks to passionate citizens holding thousands of hours of conversations. All members of the community are striving for the same thing, we want Hammond to hold on to its past but prepare for its future. That’s how we became included in the top 10 greatest Main Streets in the country and that’s exactly what the Hammond Downtown Development District will continue to accomplish. I encourage you to ask questions, get involved and be passionate about our small town. That’s how we’ll leave this city better than we found it.
Hammond Downtown Development District
Click here for full architectural plan
Click here for project bid information