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Municipal Auditorium's fate heads to arbitration with building in disrepair

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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

Once one of New Orleans' most grandiose and extravagant buildings, the Municipal Auditorium now sits in a state of disrepair, and the fight over funding to renovate the building is heading to arbitration.  

"This was one of the great public buildings of New Orleans that was in use until Katrina. All of the Mardi Gras balls took place here," French Quarter resident Leo Watermeier said. 

Watermeier worries about the future of the historic building that sports busted windows, graffitti'd walls and squatters openly living inside. 

"It's a cat and mouse game with the squatters. Keeping the building boarded up needs to be done, but the real issue is it's got to be put back to use. The building's got to be fixed up and put back to use," Watermeier argued. 

Hurricane Katrina flooded the auditorium's basement and damaged its roof. Patchwork seen on Google Earth shows signs the of neglect that Watermeier said has lead to rainwater further eroding the inside. But finding the millions to repair the building have stalled. The City of New Orleans and FEMA cannot agree on how much it will take to restore the auditorium. 
    
According to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, FEMA believes $41.7 million will fully repair the damage, yet the city says it would take twice that and is taking FEMA to arbitration over the amount. 

"While this bickering is going on, the building continues to rot, and we are afraid eventually it's going to catch on fire and then be lost," Watermeier said. 

Others are not so hard on Landrieu for his effort. 

"City's don't have auditoriums like that anymore, especially something so old, beautiful and historic. Old, beautiful and historic - that's all dollar signs," Covenant House Executive Director Jim Kelly said. 

Kelly works in the shadow of the auditorium and closely with the homeless living in the area. He applauds the city for trying find money for repairs. 

"The real issue is what's going to happen to the auditorium in the long term," Kelly said. "It's one of the crown jewels of New Orleans. I would love to see the city partner with some private developer and see it rejuvenated."  

However, Watermeier believes if work doesn't start soon, the building could suffer the same fate as its predecessor. 

"You know the irony would be we are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the fire at the Old French Opera House, and this building was actually the replacement of that building," Watermeier said. "It would be so ironic if this building burned because of neglect of the city."

The city says it's starting round-the-clock details at the auditorium on Friday. 

It is unclear when the arbitration between the city and FEMA will begin. 

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