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Zurik: New group emerges hoping to make dream of a football stadium in the Ninth Ward a reality

Updated: Apr. 14, 2021 at 10:44 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A new group is trying to make the vision of a football stadium near a high school in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans a reality. The move comes nearly two years after FOX 8 and The Athletic investigated the financial mismanagement of a separate group that wanted to build a so-called Field of Dreams following Hurricane Katrina. More than a million dollars was raised, but the field remained empty.

Former New Orleans City Councilmember Arnie Fielkow was one of the donors to the initial project which promised to put a football stadium outside Carver High School. The “Field of Dreams” project brought in donations from all around the country and even garnered national headlines and was even mentioned by former President Barack Obama during a visit to New Orleans.

But more than a decade after the “Field of Dreams” our investigation in 2019 found nearly all the money was gone -- with no stadium to show for it. To this day the field is still an empty lot, a reminder of broken promises to a community.

Click here to watch our previous reports on the Empty Field of Dreams.

Our investigation found nearly $200,000 of the donated money went to the executive director of the former organization, Betty Washington. Records show Washington spent money on computers, a refrigerator, internet and phone bills and paid a contractor who never actually built a field.

“A lot of people gave real money to what they believed was going to be a great heartfelt project that was going to help the kids of New Orleans.,” Fielkow said in 2019.

When we interviewed Fielkow in 2019 he said he had forgotten about the project and assumed the stadium was being built. He was angry and upset to learn what FOX 8 uncovered. After our reports, he decided to put together a new effort to make the dream of the football stadium a reality.

Click here to read more on this project from Jeff Duncan of The Athletic.

“We have literally been working every day for a year on the stadium project,” Fielkow said.

He’s been working to create a new non-profit called the 9th Ward Stadium with a new board. The members include architect Mark Ripple, former state senator Ann Duplessis, businessman Roy Glapion and former New Orleans Saint Deuce McAllister.

“We understand based on history that we’ve got to do this project right,” Fielkow said. “There’s no margin for error here in terms of integrity. I can assure the people we’re going to give it everything we can. None of us are getting paid. We’re all volunteers, and we’re doing this because we love New Orleans.”

A sketch of the newly-planned 9th Ward Stadium located next to the Carver High School campus.
A sketch of the newly-planned 9th Ward Stadium located next to the Carver High School campus.(9th Ward Stadium)

The new ‘dream’ is a multi-use stadium planned on the north side of Carver High School for football, soccer and track and field use. The plans also propose a possible venue for a New Orleans Public School Sports Hall of Fame. The price tag -- $5 Million.

“It’s not going to be easy, we’re going to need the help of the community, the business leaders in our community all of those individuals who care about youth and economic development,” Fielkow said.

The group hopes $1 Million of the project’s funds can come from the state. Area lawmakers are working on getting money from the state’s capital outlay fund to use for the project.

“All we ever dreamed about was having a place to call our home”

Byron Addison graduated from Carver High School in 1996. He’s now the head football coach and said his kids and his school deserve this field.

“It would send [a message] that hey, the 9th ward – we’re still alive,” Addison said. “We’re still here doing good things and I think it’ll bring people from all over the community and I just think that stadium would do a lot for this community. Everybody’s just been waiting on it.”

Former State Senator Ann Duplessis, a member of the new group, agrees with the coach that the stadium can do a lot for the community and possibly bring new businesses.

“Where there is people, then there is a need for other stuff, restaurants, there’s a need for other types of development to support what that stadium will bring,” Duplessis said.

The new organization is structured differently than the prior group. The new group’s sole mission is to raise the money. When that is complete, the money and project will be handed over to the Orleans Parish School Board, which owns the property. The school board will be responsible for building and managing the stadium.

“This is not about what people did right or wrong in the past. What’s done is done. We are going to move forward in a positive way in an open, honest, transparent way -- and donors that we’re going after are going to require that. Because some of them gave money to the past project, and the first question they’ve raised with us is how are you different than the past?” Fielkow said.

The Orleans Parish School Board is expected to meet and sign a memorandum of understanding with the new group in the coming weeks.

To find out more information about the new project, click here to visit a newly launched website for the 9th Ward Stadium.

‘Empty Field of Dreams’ is a joint investigation by FOX 8 News at The Athletic’s Jeff Duncan.

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