The Pontchartrain Beach property, a mile-long sandy beach near the Seabrook Bridge that has been closed for decades but remains popular with some New Orleans residents, may officially reopen under a new manager.
The Lakefront Management Authority, which currently controls the property, agreed in March to seek bids from organizations that could make the beach safer for swimmers, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The authority will publish its request for proposals later this week.
“What we’re doing now is testing the waters to see what proposals will come in and what ideas are there to develop this former beach site,” said the authority’s executive director Louis Capo.
This is the second reorganization of the beach at Lake Pontchartrain that local authorities have considered in recent months. Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration last year announced plans to revive Lincoln Beach along East New Orleans’ Hayne Boulevard, a beachfront for black residents during segregation that has been closed for more than 50 years.
Established by the Batt family in 1928 on the current site of the Lake Terrace Subdivision, Pontchartrain Beach was an amusement park for white residents only until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
In the early 1930s the park moved to the foot of Elysian Fields Avenue in Gentilly, where it remained until it closed in 1983. Rides were sold or donated, and much of the land is now in use by the University of New Orleans, which has opened a research park there.
The main ribbon still standing is the mile-long strip of sand near the Gentilly Bridge, located behind Lakeshore Drive where Elysian Fields ends in a roundabout near the shore of the lake. Although the area is officially closed due to underwater hazards that make swimming perilous, it has still been used by swimmers over the years.
It would not be the first time that an organization has rented Pontchartrain beach. As a property owned by the Orleans Levee District, it has been leased to UNO, which borders the beach shoreline, and the Pontchartrain Conservancy, a non-profit organization focused on environmental sustainability.
When the reserve, then dubbed the Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, took up the lease, it had ambitions to reopen the beach and clean up the entirety of Lake Pontchartrain. But the nonprofit did not complete the reopening until its lease expired in 2018.
The beach then came under the supervision of the management authority.
“Now it’s not rented anywhere. But state law requires that it can only be used for a beach. You can’t put a business there,” said board member Wilma Heaton. Administration of LMA.
At least one group hopes to be selected to revive the property. The Pontchartrain Beach Foundation, founded by Guy Williams, CEO of Gulf Coast Bank & Trust, applied to the authority’s board for permission to lease the beach in December.
Williams said her group wanted to clean up and reopen the beach for swimming, kayaking and other outdoor activities.
“There just aren’t a lot of options in our area to get out on the water for free,” Williams said.
Williams’ group worked independently to help restore the beach by putting fracking sand on the site, he said. Although her presentation was not a formal proposal, she inspired the authority to consider leasing the beach from a manager.
“We’ll be focusing on the first step, which is actually getting the funds and the renovations needed so the beach can be reopened,” Williams said. “If we don’t do the first stage, there will never be a second stage.”
Any renovations to make the area safe for the public would require removing some of the remnants of the beach’s earlier glory. The old amusement park structures are buried in the beach sand and can cut off people who don’t see it. There is also a steep drop and riprap, a rocky material used for shorelines, underwater that is unsafe for swimmers.
The authority plans to weigh all proposals it receives, said Anthony Richard, its chairman.
“We have a responsibility to oversee the properties of our kingdoms on behalf of the public,” he said. “We’re trying to get an idea of what would be the best use of this particular space available that is related to our mission.”