Deal to reopen Pontchartrain Beach falls through, future now in limbo

It’s back to the drawing board when it comes to opening the long-shuttered public beach.
Published: May. 26, 2023 at 11:12 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A deal to reopen Pontchartrain Beach fell through after the Lakefront Management Authority voted to reject a lease proposal with the Pontchartrain Beach Foundation.

With a nearly unanimous vote Thursday night, the authority voted to end nearly a year of negotiations with the foundation, as criticism from neighbors mounted and costs became unrealistic for the foundation.

The proposal put forward by the foundation involved soliciting federal money to reopen the beach, while installing elements like a canoe and kayak launch and vendor rental spaces, a dog park, food trucks and event space.

“We’re not a business, you don’t make money running parks, this is a community service,” said Guy Williams, chairman of the Pontchartrain Beach Foundation. “All we wanted to do is open the beach.”

The foundation had negotiated a lease with the authority for 11 months, while conducting months of studies on the feasibility of reopening the beach.

Pontchartrain Beach has sat closed for decades, with rubble from the remains of the amusement park that was once housed on the property now littering the waters.

“What our group was offering is we would go, at our expense, to the federal government, solicit money to reopen the beach to make it safe, to repair the damage that happened during Ida and Katrina,” Williams said. “We got hung up on: ‘Well, if you opened it tomorrow, what’s your security plan? If you opened up tomorrow, what’s your litter plan?’”

Meanwhile, property owners in Lake Terrace raised concerns surrounding security in and around the site, as well as litter control outside of the site and noise pollution from concerts and events proposed at the reopened beach.

“It was a gorgeous picture with beautiful blue water, but that’s all it was,” said Ashley Haspel, President of the Lake Terrace Property Owners’ Association. “We’re not anti-development out here, and this is not a case of ‘Not in My Backyard,’ it’s that we didn’t like what these developers had to offer.”

Haspel said they also raised a problem with the foundation charging admission for visitors to the beach.

“They wanted it to be a place where they could have corporate events, weddings, concerts,” she said. “This is a public beach, and we’re going after public funds, and yet it sounded more like a private beach every day.”

Lakefront Management Authority had sought 500 dollars a month from the foundation in rent, along with four percent of revenue from the beach and an unspecified administrative fee.

The foundation had countered, offering 500 dollars a year until the beach is opened, one percent of revenue and no administrative fee.

“It was always our hope that we could open it with no admission charge, and so as the expectations and requests and demands from LMA increased, the cost increased, and so our revenue model didn’t work,” Williams said.

Now, the future of the beach remains in limbo. Williams said his group is willing to work with any other groups that express interest in Pontchartrain Beach.

“If we had a magic wand and we could have people see it opened, I think the neighbors would realize, ‘You know, this is really nice, and it’s not bothering us,’” he said.

Fox 8 reached out to the Lakefront Management Authority for comment but did not receive a response.

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