NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — A new group is trying to realize a vision for a football stadium near a high school in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. The move comes nearly two years after FOX 8 and The Athletic investigated financial mismanagement by a separate group that wanted to build a so-called Field of Dreams after Hurricane Katrina. Over a million dollars were raised, but the field remained empty.
Former New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow was one of the donors to the original project that promised to put a football stadium outside Carver High School. The “Field of Dreams” project attracted donations from across the country and even made 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 land is still a wasteland, a reminder of broken promises to a community.
Click here to view our previous reports on the Empty Field of Dreams.
Our investigation revealed that nearly $200,000 of the donated money went to the former organization’s executive director, Betty Washington. Records show Washington spent money on computers, a refrigerator, internet and phone bills and paid a contractor who never built a field.
“A lot of people gave real money to what they thought was a big, heartfelt project that was going to help the kids in New Orleans,” Fielkow said in 2019.
When we interviewed Fielkow in 2019, he said he forgot about the project and assumed the stadium was under construction. He was angry and upset to learn what FOX 8 discovered. After our reports, he decided to redouble his efforts to make the dream of the football stadium a reality.
Click here to learn more about this project from Jeff Duncan of The Athletic.
“We literally worked every day for a year on the stadium project,” Fielkow said.
He is working on creating a new nonprofit called the 9th Ward Stadium with a new board of directors. Members include architect Mark Ripple, former state senator Ann Duplessis, businessman Roy Glapion and former Saint Deuce McAllister of New Orleans.
“We understand based on the story that we have to do this project right,” Fielkow said. “There is no margin for error here in terms of integrity. I can assure people that we are going to give it our all. None of us are paid. We are all volunteers and we do it because we love New Orleans.
The new “dream” is a planned multipurpose stadium on the north side of Carver High School for football, soccer and track and field. The plans also propose a possible location for a New Orleans Public School Sports Hall of Fame. The price to pay – 5 million dollars.
“It won’t be easy, we will need the help of the community, the business leaders in our community, all those people who care about young people and economic development,” Fielkow said.
The group hopes that $1 million of the project funds can come from the state. Lawmakers in the area are scrambling to get money from the state’s capital expenditure fund to use for the project.
“All we ever dreamed of was having a place to call home”
Byron Addison graduated from Carver High School in 1996. He is now the head football coach and said his children and his school deserved this pitch.
“It would send [a message] that hey, 9th Ward – we’re still alive,” Addison said. “We are always here to do good things and I think it will bring people from all over the community and I just think this stadium would do a lot for this community. Everyone was waiting for him.
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 potentially bring in new businesses.
“Where there are people, then there is a need for other things, restaurants, there is a need for other types of development to support what this stadium will bring,” Duplessis said.
The new organization is structured differently from the previous group. The only mission of the new group is to raise funds. When this is complete, the money and the project will be turned over to the Orleans Parish School Board, which owns the property. The school board will be responsible for the construction and management of the stadium.
“It’s not about what people have done right or wrong in the past. What is done is done. We will move forward in a positive, open, honest and transparent manner – and the donors we seek will demand it. Because some of them donated money to the past project, and the first question they asked us is how are you different from the past? said Fieldow.
The Orleans Parish School Board is expected to meet and sign a memorandum of understanding with the new group in the coming weeks.
“Empty Field of Dreams” is a joint FOX 8 News investigation of The Athletic’s Jeff Duncan.
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