NOJAZZ_JAN

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is converting the 19th century building next door to its offices into a performance hall, music school, and community center. The renovated building will mix the best of old and new: the front half’s structure, façade and interior details will be preserved while the back half will be rebuilt from the ground up into a modern, elegant performance space. Construction is expected to start this month and full programming in the Jazz & Heritage Center is expected to be up and running by Fall 2014. ArtPlace recently spoke with Executive Director Don Marshall about the project.

ArtPlace: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your efforts? How did you get burned, or how did you prevail?

Marshall: One of the riskiest decisions we made when planning the Jazz & Heritage Center was to include contemporary design in our renovation plans. With a building in the Tremé Historic District, we are required to get approval for all architectural plans from the Historic District Landmark Commission; then the New Orleans City Council makes the ultimate decision on whether or not the project can go through. Just one unhappy neighbor can show up at either one of these meetings and create a significant barrier to construction.

If there’s one thing that can incite opposition to a building project in this city, it’s failing to preserve the historical architecture that gives New Orleans its distinct aesthetic. A proposed development across the street from the Jazz & Heritage Center has stirred up a lot of controversy recently because it threatens to change the appearance and character of the neighborhood. At the edge of the Tremé and the French Quarter, historic preservation is a serious topic and we didn’t want to upset the community by significantly altering the Rampart streetscape. At the same time, we don’t want the functionality of the building to be negatively impacted.

So we compromised on the plans: the front, historic half maintains its exterior and parts of the interior layout. The back, which is actually a series of post-1940’s add-ons, gets torn down and a modern performance space takes its place. Although we didn’t plan to tear down the historic portion of the building, we were still under scrutiny from the neighborhood and the aforementioned committees to maintain continuity with the surrounding buildings in the Tremé, an old neighborhood with shotgun houses and Creole cottages that are emblematic of New Orleans architecture.

To ensure that the blueprints would gain approval from all interested parties and that we wouldn’t waste time and money redoing plans we held a series of meetings with neighborhood residents, Foundation staff, and the architects responsible for the building’s design. This helped us gain buy-in from our neighbors, who have a lot to lose or gain from the project. One major concern was the level of sound emanating from the music classrooms, but architects and audio consultants were able to address the issue to everyone’s satisfaction. We included neighborhood non-profit organizations in the meeting so that they could represent the people they serve as well.

Luckily it worked, and we got final approval from the Historic District Landmark Commission and the New Orleans City Council this summer. By blending old and new, the Jazz & Heritage Center can honor New Orleans’ vibrant past while creating a modern space for our most treasured traditions to be passed on to the next generation of residents.

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