- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Audubon Nature Institute is beginning construction on the long-closed Audubon Louisiana Nature Center in Joe W. Brown Park in eastern New Orleans.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1iv99f8) the 86-acre site is the last major attraction in Audubon’s portfolio to be rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina damaged it in 2005. The site has been closed since the storm after being swamped with six feet of water for more than a month, Audubon President and CEO Ron Forman said.

“I think the most important thing, particularly for our friends and families in the East, is we’re excited about coming back,” Forman said. “This is something we’ve missed in our programs.”

Forman said Audubon initially hoped to rehabilitate the space but then realized it would have to be completely rebuilt because the damage was so severe.

The restoration will be done in phases, the full cost and scope of which have not been decided, said Audubon Chief of Staff Bill Kurtz.

The first phase, at $8.4 million, will restore everything that was lost in the storm including a 2,500-square-foot planetarium, an 8,500-square-foot exhibit pavilion and 2,400-square-feet of classroom space with an amphitheater. Those three attractions will be connected by covered exterior boardwalks. Boardwalks also will replace the nature trails destroyed by the flood.

In one alteration to the old layout, the facility will be designed so that exhibits can be moved, meaning their spaces can be converted into event venues, something that had been requested by area residents, according to Audubon.

The first phase of restoration also includes the elimination of invasive Chinese tallow and the restoration of native Louisiana plants.

It also will include several projects to be completed after the center reopens, including the opening of a botany center in the glass and steel greenhouse building that was part of the Nature Center’s campus since 1984. The building will be stabilized and restored to host classes emphasizing wetlands plants. An existing maintenance building also will be renovated after the center reopens.

Later phases of development will depend on requests from Nature Center patrons and the success of fundraising efforts, Kurtz said.

The Louisiana Nature Center opened in 1980 and merged with the Audubon Nature Institute in 1993 to become the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center. Before Katrina, it had about 85,000 visitors a year, more than half of them students who learned about the Mississippi River and the Louisiana coast.

Joe W. Brown Park reopened early last year after a $23.4 million rehabilitation that includes a football stadium, tennis complex, baseball field, track and two gymnasiums. Forman said the park’s reopening helped to catalyze plans for the Nature Center’s redevelopment.

“It made no sense to build the Nature Center back until Joe Brown was back,” Forman said. “The excitement is that the East is coming back. This is another asset that’s coming back to the East.”

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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