First, and most important, the new Master Plan adopted in 2010 does nothing to protect our public parks from development. If this protection ever comes, it will be as part of a new comprehensive zoning code, which is possibly five years in the future, by which time there may be nothing left to save if the current rate of development is any indication.
Second, there is apparently vast confusion at City Hall as to who in fact owns and controls certain parcels of land that are historically a part of Audubon Park. This does not bode well for any positive outcome.
We don't know exactly where the confusion lies, but it seems unlikely that the question is whether the Audubon Commission can own property separate from its role to "administer, operate, and maintain" city property as per the Home Rule Charter. Section 5-802 (pp 150-151) of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans reads...
The powers, duties, functions, administration, and operation of the Audubon Commission shall be as provided in this chapter to administer, operate, and maintain facilities administered by the Commission, including Audubon Park, the Aquarium of the Americas, Woldenberg Riverfront Park, the Species Survival Center, the Louisiana Nature Center and other educational, cultural and recreational facilities, and to perform such other duties as are provided by applicable law, subject to the provisions of the City’s Master Plan, its land use regulations, and its permitting authority. The Commission shall not accept, assume, or exercise any power or function which relates to taxation or the police power or which imposes a financial obligation on the city derived from any state law unless approved by ordinance of the Council.
The Audubon Commission has a 24-member board appointed by the Mayor. The City has financial accountability because it appoints a voting majority of the board and the City can impose its will.
Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc.
Perhaps the issue lies in the convoluted nature of the relationship between the Audubon Commission and Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc, the operator of the Audubon Park swimming pool from 1928 through the 1960's. Audubon Park Natatorium was incorporated in 1927. According to their articles of incorporation, the purpose of the corporation was to provide a recreational park space for swimming pool and facilities. In 1929, Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc. amended Article III to include other recreational purposes, stating specifically “tennis courts and athletic fields”; and Article IV, to issue common stock to the Audubon Park Commission of New Orleans in consideration of said commission granting to this corporation a lease and concession of its natatorium and the adjacent grounds.
On page 123 of Ron Forman's book Audubon Park: An Urban Eden, published in 1985, he writes: "Almost as soon as the idea for a large swimming pool was conceived, financial contributions flowed to the park as never before for any private development. When sanitary conditions in Olmsted's lake made mass swimming there undesirable, the Businessman's Club of Carrollton raised almost $150,000 for a new natatorium. When they managed to gain more than half of the amount through pledges in less than five months, Commissioner Harry L. Falk put together a corporation that raised the balance of the funds by selling common stock in the enterprise" (i.e. Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc). Later, he writes: "It was one project that not only paid for itself but also brought additional revenue for further construction and landscaping."
Avenger Field is featured in the book as a prominent part of the map of Audubon Park. On page 63, Forman writes: "In 1949 the commission purchased a square of land fronting on Tchoupitoulas Street, lying between the park and Children's Hospital. The area, known as both the Mengel Tract and Avenger Field, is scheduled to become the site of the Audubon tennis courts, which are to be moved from the longtime location next to the zoo." Audubon Park Tennis Courts were moved to the present location fronting on Tchoupitoulas Street in 1987.
However, Avenger Field predates the Audubon Commission land purchase by several years. That land, then owned by the railroad, was dedicated on July 30, 1944, as "Avenger Field" by a representative of the mayor, and the City of New Orleans established the baseball field with a diamond and erected a grandstand, which held approximately 300 people, for the youth of New Orleans.
Secretary of State records indicate that Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc was registered in 1927, revoked in 1982, reinstated in October 1991 with Henry "Tut" Kinney (the attorney for both the Audubon Commission and the ANI) as registered agent, revoked again in 2002, and finally dissolved in January 2004. The relationship between the Commission and Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc. may have been similar to the relationship between the Commission and the ANI, or the AC/ANI and Audubon Tea Room Catering, LLC, or Tea Room Catering, LLC, neither of which seem to be owned or controlled by anyone outside the Audubon Nature Institute. Or the Audubon Commission may simply have been the only shareholder left in the corporation.
In the meantime, on March 13, 1992, Conveyance Records indicate the filing of a Subdivision (Title Change) approved by the City Planning Commission, of land bordered by the Mississippi River, Exposition Blvd, Tchoupitoulas and Henry Clay. Owners before the subdivision were listed as Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc, and Crippled Children's Hospital; the land is subdivided as Lots C, N, H, and P (Instrument #49108).
A few days later, on March 16, 1992, Conveyance records show a sale of part of Lot C for $200,000 from Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc to Children's Hospital (Instrument #49605).
Finally, on November 2, 2003, Conveyance records show a transfer of 100% of the assets of Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc unto the Audubon Commission, Lots N and P, in consideration of cancellation of shares of capital stock in Audubon Park Natatorium, Inc (Instrument #275843).
Lot H seems to be 6300 Leake Ave, owned by Children's Hospital since 3/92 according to property records. 200 Henry Clay Ave, described as Lot C, is listed in property records as being owned by Children's Hospital since 3/92 as well. Lot N and Lot P are listed in city property records as being owned by the Audubon Commission since November 26, 2003.
Perhaps the answer lies in the chain of title or in the conveyance documents, all of which were filed by the AC-ANI's attorney Henry "Tut" Kinney. Or in the city's property records: the numbers relaying the sizes and descriptions of each lot are too challenging for us laypeople to figure out, but certainly seem to add up at first glance to more land than the original site appears to contain. We've attached all relevant documents below, so perhaps someone with more knowledge in these areas can figure it out.