Now might be a good time to register for the Lafitte Corridor hike on May 8.
Here’s a new song I’ve been singing lately.
Two step forwards, one step back
Doing the greenway shuffle
Last year we took two steps forward. This year we’re taking a step back. I have to keep reminding myself: We are still making progress.
Over the past several years I’ve organized an annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor. It’s been a way of rallying the community in support of the greenway project. (If you’re not familiar, the project aims to transform this vacant space into a new public amenity. You can find more information on the website of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.) It’s been a way of keeping people engaged, keeping their spirits and enthusiasm up, while we grind slowly toward the goal.
This year, the situation is reversed. I’m the one who needs my spirits rallied. I’m the one who needs to see that the community desire for this project is as strong as ever. Because frankly I have been discouraged.
We’ve been slogging away at this project for years now. Last year it seemed we were finally making headway. The city had issued a request for proposals, and selected a team led by Design Workshop to do the work. Contract negotiations were still underway when we had our hike, but a number of people from Design Workshop came and hiked with us, and one of the principals addressed the group at the end of the hike. Spirits were high, and it seemed likely that we might even see a groundbreaking ceremony by the time of the next hike.
Contract negotiations between Design Workshop and the city continued over the summer. Wow, did that a long time. Then, once the details had been hammered out to everyone’s satisfaction, the contract entered a phase of being routed around City Hall being signed by various officials. That seemed to take forever as well. Finally in November the mayor signed the contract and I breathed a sigh of relief.
But I exhaled too soon. Turns out there’s something called a “notice to proceed” that has to be issued before work actually begins. We kept waiting for that, but it never happened.
Then we got word that HUD was raising questions about the policies the city had in place for awarding contracts. See, this work was to be funded through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program, aka CDBG, so the feds have a say. The city administration revised its policy. But they also decided to preemptively re-bid the three projects funded by CDBG.
To this end, they terminated the contract with Design Workshop.
I looked on in horror throughout this process. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Well, that’s how it seemed to me, because I really wanted to see this project move forward. Perhaps the city did the right thing. Perhaps I don’t know all the details. I wish the city had asked HUD to review the procurement procedures that were followed for this particular project. The Friends of Lafitte Corridor had been monitoring the whole process from afar; we thought the deal with Design Workshop was clean and solid; we were fairly confident that HUD would have given it a clean bill of health. But who knows? That’s all water under the bridge now I suppose.
The city issued a new request for proposals. The deadline was this past Monday. Now the city is evaluating proposals, and unfortunately we don’t have much confidence in the process this time around. For one thing, the administration seems to want to get a contract done before their term is up, which is in three weeks — despite the fact that it took them six months to negotiate last time. And there are other cause for concern. That’s why I sent off a letter to the Office of the Inspector General yesterday.
(Please note: Though I signed my name to it, I did not actually pour out the blood, sweat and tears that went into writing that letter. It’s an exhaustively researched document; I couldn’t have done it if I tried. It was a collaborative effort, with a couple key members of the FOLC Board doing the heavy lifting.)
I’m really discouraged that it’s come to this.
And that’s why it’s important to me to see a good showing at this year’s hike. That’s why I need your help. Last year we had 200 people show up. This year we’ll be hiking just days after a new administration has taken office. We need to show the new mayor that the community still desires this project.
But I’m just about running out of steam, folks. My enthusiasm is at a low ebb. I need your help to promote this event.
Sure, we can and should use social media to push this thing forward, but that’s somewhat limiting. Digital campaigns tend to reproduce the same social divides that keep us apart us in real life. We need to reach beyond the internet and let people who aren’t wired into our social networks know about this thing. We need to let them know that we’re only just getting started — that nothing has been decided yet — that there is still time to get involved “on the ground floor” so to speak and have a voice in how this thing is designed.
We are partnering with Massey’s Professional Outfitters again this year. Rouse’s will be providing lunch. Through our friends at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy we’ve connected with Merrell and they’ve signed on as a sponsor too. Their creative department is working on a flyer which I hope may be available soon.
There will be food, and music, and in general it should be a fun event. So please register and join us May 8, and help me spread the word.