Empty Field of Dreams: New group closer to making football stadium in Ninth Ward a reality

Updated: Jul. 6, 2022 at 10:02 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After Hurricane Katrina, donations poured in to build a football field next to Carver High School in the Ninth Ward. The promise was to build a field of dreams, where kids from surrounding schools could compete. However, prior FOX 8 investigations found the funding for that stadium had been drained, leaving nothing but an overgrown lot.

Now, three years after our initial reports, a group is closer to finally making the dream a reality. They’re sharing an update on their progress with FOX 8 and Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune.

More: Empty Field of Dreams

The group is led by former New Orleans Councilmember Arnie Fielkow. It also includes neighborhood leaders like Wilbert Thomas, and former Saints Running Back Deuce McAllister.

Wilbert Thomas graduated from Carver High school and now lives just steps away from campus and the site of the new stadium. Thomas says the Ninth Ward has been neglected since Katrina, with little government investment, until now.

“So, this is great for this community to get a stadium like it’s going to be for the kids. And that’s our future,” said Thomas.

The group has landed $6.8 million to build a new state-of-the-art stadium. That includes $3.8 million in state money with the help of La. Senator Joe Bouie, Jr. and $3 million in federal dollars with the help of Congressman Troy Carter. The state money was appropriated through the Capital Outlay Program, while the federal money was earmarked from a Community Projects fund.

The goal is for a venue that will eventually host Carver football games, track meets, other extracurriculars, and community meetings.

“Well, we’re building a community home in a lot of ways. I mean, I hope that this could be an economic catalyst for the upper Ninth Ward. I hope it will bring people here. It’s certainly going to provide recreational opportunities for youth from all of our public schools for, you know, sports, like football and soccer and track and field and other things,” said Fielkow.

He also hopes the stadium will include community meeting rooms and a Hall of Fame, showcasing New Orleans student-athletes.

After Katrina, the plans for the Ninth Ward Field of Dreams garnered national exposure and $1 million in donations. But FOX 8 and Jeff Duncan’s prior investigations in 2019 found the group had spent all the money.

The apparent mismanagement of funds outraged some alumni. But the new committee is working to get things back on track.

“Every public school in New Orleans will have the opportunity to use this facility. So, that was one of the things that we were really excited about. Just to be able to go to that community, spend tax dollars in that community and really just hopefully, revitalize the area,” said McAllister.

Congressman Troy Carter says he hopes the stadium will help revitalize the Ninth Ward.

“So when we talk about really leveling things and creating opportunities for neighborhoods to be equal, and to give people self-pride, and to use this as a catalyst to maybe get more homeownership, to open more businesses, to make this area more vibrant. This is one of those Win-Win scenarios,” said Carter.

Fielkow and the committee are now focused on raising private money. They’re hoping to secure an additional $2.2 million in order to build the stadium they envision. Fundraising for the project has begun. Fielkow’s hope is to secure a donation that would include naming rights and start construction this year. He says there is a plan to get community input on the project.

“We are absolutely going to build this new stadium. We’ve still got a little work to do, but we’re far enough along right now that I feel very confident this project is going to come to fruition,” said Fielkow.

“When we got into it, we made a pact that we will not talk about the past. We want to talk about the future and get it done. Now it’s coming to fruition,” said Thomas.

The hope is that the construction might help heal the community, giving kids a sign of hope and breathing new life into an empty lot; to erase the $1 million in funding that was spent and erase empty promises, and to finally make this field of dreams a reality.

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