At lunch time, Dooky Chase’s was a circus. There were drummers out front and Lenny Kravitz, Irvin Mayfield and Mayor C. Ray Nagin inside. To make the scene properly surreal, a woman was walking around with a young kangaroo. The occasion was the formal announcement of the Center for Entertainment and Creative Industry (CECI), a multi-purpose venue that will repurpose the currently empty Memorial Auditorium.
A video explained the vision of CECI as a center that will bolster the development of music and culture, provide a hub for music industry development, and be a home for culture non-profits and the location for the Leah Chase Culinary Institute. It will have a performance space, a place for Mardi Gras balls, a recording studio, and it will link the proposed sculpture garden planned for Armstrong Park with the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. It will move tourists and economic activity away from the river and into our neighborhoods, and it will get our teeth brighter and make our breath fresher.
The vision of developer Stewart Juneau’s is certainly an appealing one, and architect James Singleton’s drawings suggest a remarkable space if the plan reaches completion. Still, it’s hard not to think of other post-K projects and their fates while a new beautiful vision is being sold. The jazz park at the Hyatt never got past the announcements-and-drawings phase. The new Charity Hospital/LSU School of Medicine remains jammed up by one of the funding sources that is expected to be a major funding source for CECI – FEMA. FEMA money and tax credits are to fund the new project, but the city and FEMA can’t agree on the dollar amount FEMA should contribute to the Charity project, and it’s hard to imagine that this will go any more easily.
CECI does have at least the implied if not explicit support of a number of people with good track records for seeing projects to completion, so that bodes well, and if it became something that created foot traffic in the area in the daytime – one of Juneau’s goals – CECI would help open up Armstrong Park in a genuine way and force something to happen on Rampart Street.
Now that CECI has been announced, the process to keep it from meeting the jazz park’s demise has to start. “All I can do right now is plant these seeds,” Nagin said at the press conference.