Fly sports complex plans withdrawn after protests

Canela López, Associate News Editor

Droves of Uptown community members and “Save the Fly NOLA” organizers popped champagne bottles in Audubon Park on Monday, celebrating the cancellation of a plan to build a sports complex on The Fly.

The protest movement known as Save the Fly NOLA was one of the organizations pivotal in orchestrating the public opposition to the project, and was responsible for much of the media coverage of the issue.

“I think the public needs to govern public spaces, rather than a deal by developers hatched in the back room and then dropped on the public,” Save the Fly leader Christopher Lane said.

Lane is also a program manager for Tulane’s School of Public Health.

The initial plan, as proposed and designed by John Payne, an executive for Harrah’s Casino and a volunteer bundler for the Carrollton Boosters, was to build a turf sports complex for children on the city-owned green space in Audubon Park near the the Mississippi River, known by locals as “The Fly.”

The backlash was immediate for what Payne described as a “philanthropic project” in a press release statement.

On Feb. 17, 2016 Save the Fly NOLA held a protest picnic to condemn the building of the complex. The group also had an ongoing Facebook campaign to collect dissenting opinions against the project.

After months of negotiations, and what Payne described as “venomous” comments from the opposition, the Carrollton Boosters sports league released a statement to the press on Monday stating that Payne had pulled out of the project and announced he would return the $4 million raised to their donors, including Drew Brees and Tom Benson.

Payne released a statement in a press conference confirming his reasons for withdrawing from the plans, calling the issue far too “divisive” to continue with it.

“I wish our community activists and officials would get as outraged about our crime, murder rate, state budget deficit and crumbling streets as much as they have about a new sports field, playground and bathrooms,” Payne said.

Lane was one of the main organizers involved with Save the Fly NOLA and said that the movement had a slow start, with people extremely dedicated to the cause.

But, according to Lane, their luck started to turn around as soon as the press became involved.

“There was a great deal of interest from the press because of how quickly to outrage from this grew from the public when the news broke that it was happening,” Lane said.

The added pressure from the press, according to Lane, created a rift in the partnership between what he described as the three main entities pushing for the complex: John Payne, Audubon Park CEO Ron Foreman and the Carrollton Boosters. He said this divide is most likely what lead to the collapse of the deal.

“It was like watching an octopus strangle a whale, in that there was these people who were sort of unified around one situation became surrounded by a whole host of a lot of different people poking at them from all sides,” Lane said.

Lane said he believes that the success of the movement can be attributed to the diversity of the people involved. According to him, people from all communities came together to fight against the construction.

Tulane freshman Nick Schwartz, who took part in the Facebook campaign against the construction, said that The Fly was not only important to Tulane students, but also to the New Orleans community as a whole.

“The Fly is one of the few places in the city where I’ve seen all types of citizens, black and white, rich and poor, get together and be a united community,” Schwartz said. “The fact that they wanted to insert a sports complex that people would have to pay a fee to use is just ridiculous. I’m really happy they saved The Fly because it’s a win for everyone.”