January 7, 2021
As you know, it had been my intention to retire last March. However, when the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic became obvious, I was asked to stay to help the Park navigate the crisis. I believe I have accomplished that task by making the painful and difficult management decisions to preserve our financial stability and to educate the Governor and members of the Legislature on the Park’s financial condition leading to a supplemental appropriation from the State in October. As you are near the selection of a new Chief Executive Officer, it is time that I formally offer my resignation effective February 4, 2021. (It is my expectation that I will remain as CEO Emeritus working with the new CEO until March 31, 2021).
I have been the CEO of City Park for 20 years, from 2001-2021. The Park has faced its share of difficult times but we have also made great progress in being recognized as one of the outstanding Parks in America. The following are some of the achievements I am most proud of.
- We developed and implemented an award winning Master Plan. The new plan dramatically changed the landscape in the Park by reducing the number of golf courses which provided space for the Big Lake, the Festival Grounds and the Children’s Museum. We relocated the tennis complex and built a facility that was named one of the Outstanding Public Tennis Facilities in America in 2019 and we rebuilt our golf complex from four courses to two with a new championship course and clubhouse.
- In 2005, we secured the first ever State operating support by receiving a share of the State Tax revenue from slot machines, first at racetracks around the State and then from the Fairgrounds .
- In 2019, a redistribution of city property tax revenue, will provide the Park with the first ever City funding beginning in the first quarter of 2021. Together, the
State and City funds could total over $4.0 million dollars.
- We recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the loss of 90% of our staff, to the point of being considered one of the finest Parks in the country.
- We increased the Park’s endowment from $46,000 to over $6,000,000.
- In 2008 we secured State Enabling Legislation to establish the City Park Tax Increment Finance District and secured City participation. To date we have spent just under $3.0 million dollars of TIF funds on capital improvements.
- In the 15 years since Hurricane Katrina struck, the Park has raised over $120 million dollars towards its recovery. If we count monies spent in the Park by Park tenants, over $200 million dollars will have been invested.
- We have never had a significant Management Finding in any of our Annual Audits.
- We secured the first ever emergency Supplemental Appropriation for the Park of $2.5 million dollars to help address the loss in revenue caused by the pandemic restrictions.
During my tenure attendance at the Park more than tripled to over 3,000,000 million visitors with the number of visits surpassing 13 million. In 2018, 94% of Park visitors were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their experience in City Park.
As a result, the Park has received numerous awards such as:
- Excellence in Government Award from the Bureau of Governmental Research
- National Planning Excellence Award from the American Planning Association
- Named one of the 15 Best City Parks in America by Thrillist.
- BuzzFeed proclaimed City Park one of 16 Parks World Wide that deserved a special effort to visit.
It has been a delight to work with 11 Park Presidents and hundreds of Board Members.
It has also been a singular honor to lead my staff through turbulent times and times of great accomplishment. I have thought of them every day and did my best to support their efforts.
Finally, I want to acknowledge my wife Pat, who put up with my long hours in the Park, the loss of 30% of our house during Katrina and her own struggles to continue her teaching career.
I believe I am leaving the Park in a good place and its best days are ahead of it.
It’s been an honor and a privilege!
Robert W. Becker Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
An update from City Park CEO, Bob Becker
Well – it has been quite a year! On behalf of our Park family, we would like to wish you and your family all the best as we look ahead to brighter days. Although we have faced many unfathomable challenges this year, we were there for each other. We’ve made great strides, but will still need your support in 2021.
So many local families have been able to experience the beauty of the oak, magnolia and cypress trees, the miles of lagoons and tranquility of Big Lake, and other wide-open spaces. There have been many reminders along the way that the Park is playing a critical role for our community and we are truly humbled by the opportunity to care for City Park.
As you reflect on the past year, think of all the ways City Park has been there for you and the memories you have created! From sharing a long walk under the mossy oak trees with your loved one, to your grandchild's smiling face lit up by the twinkling lights at Celebration in the Oaks, to your daughter learning how to ride a bike during a global pandemic. We’re here for each other.
City Park is full of places and activities that shape our lives.Our team is on the ground ensuring that we continue to maintain the grounds and horticulture to provide a phenomenal resource for you. Please consider a gift today to help us to continue to maintain a beautiful future for our City Park.
Thank you for the support you have given us this year, whether it be a financial contribution or picking up a piece of trash. The recovery from a global pandemic will take a long time, but with your help we can do this! We truly appreciate you.
Best Wishes for 2021,
Robert W. Becker, Ph.D.
An update from City Park CEO, Bob Becker
New Orleans is known for its hospitality, energy, vibrancy and, most importantly, the people who call the Crescent City home. Without the help from our volunteers, neighbors, and donors, City Park would not be the long-standing urban retreat it is today. The residents of our region and State are just as important to City Park as the Park is to them.
It’s important we showcase all City Park has been able to offer our city before and during this pandemic. The Park has remained open to the public in many aspects in the last 6 months, giving residents a place to exercise, see friends at a safe social distance, and reintroduce themselves to the natural beauty of the Park. Nevertheless, we want everyone to know, like so many, it has not been easy for us.
90% of the Park’s annual operating budget is derived from self-generated activities. The pandemic and resulting restrictions eliminated nearly all of these activities. We have taken precautions, made necessary improvements, and faced difficult choices to keep the Park operational. We’ve had to furlough all part-time employees, reduce the full time staff by one-third, cut salaries, eliminate overtime and retirement contributions, and cancel contracts.
With many of the revenue-generating attractions in the Park closed and the above staffing measures we have taken, it has challenged our ability to maintain the Park to the standard it is known for, even as our citizens continue to utilize the outdoor spaces as a respite during the pandemic.
We have been forced to use reserve funds built over the last 15 years to continue to maintain the Park, recognizing New Orleanians need a familiar, safe place to explore. We’re doing okay, but we will continue to tap into those reserve funds without support from the State and they will run out in the coming months.
In the concluded Louisiana Legislative regular and special sessions, the Park requested $5 million in state funding to offset the loss of our revenue streams, as the State did after Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass. We are actively continuing to meet with important stakeholders, business and civic leaders, and potential partners to develop solutions to sustain us through this challenging period.
As we work to reach that goal of obtaining additional operational funds from the State, we’re asking our citizens to help us sustain the quality to which they have become accustomed. There are several ways to help: donate, volunteer, learn more, and advocate for us. You can learn more on how you can help by visiting our website here.
We remain optimistic and know brighter days are ahead for all of us, and in that vein, we are excited to share that on Monday, September 25 we will announce exciting news about Celebration in the Oaks. This beloved annual event, though different this year, will happen and we look forward to bringing the joy of this New Orleans holiday tradition to our region once again.
We are thankful for your support, whether it be your time, a donation, or by picking up trash while you’re in the Park. We’re here for each other and we are honored to be able to care for this incredible resource for our community. Stay tuned, stay plugged in, and lend a hand if you can.
With tremendous gratitude,
Robert W. Becker, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
New Orleans City Park
In the news:
WWLTV: City Park taking a major hit to finances due to COVID restrictions
WDSU: City Park struggles with coronavirus restrictions.
FOX8: City Park financial woes. The pandemic leaves businesses, people and cities struggling financially and that includes City Park.
WGNO: City Park Faces Financial Issues Due To The Pandemic.