Bunk Johnson Park has been the subject of public conversation more than once during the past two years.
Last year, the city attempted to address complaints from residents about drug dealing, public urination, breaking tables, public drinking and the overall state of the park by changing regulations for businesses that sell alcohol and changing park hours.
Now, West End organizations are coming together in an attempt to revitalize the park to address some of those longstanding complaints.
Envision da BERRY, West End Neighborhood Association and the Bunk Johnson Festival Association have coalesced to form the Coalition for Bunk Johnson Plaza.
Phanat Xanamane, Envision da BERRY creative director, said the group has submitted a letter of inquiry for one grant and has another application in the works.
He said the groups will know whether they should continue the application process for the first grant — through Art Place America — by March and whether they received funding through the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant by the end of the summer.
Xanamane said the group is fairly small with a small operating budget compared to some of the organizations it will compete with for funding. If the project is able to get immediate funding, Xanamane said the project could be complete in three years.
But that’s a best-case scenario.
Eva Lewis, of the West End Neighborhood Association, said the first hurdle will be to change the way residents think of the park and how it’s used.
“A lot of people feel the park is just for those who loiter and drink all day,” Lewis said. “They drink, they litter and other people don’t want to go.”
Lewis said the plaza has been used in the past for church musicals, revivals and community festivals and she said organizers would like to see the community take ownership once again.
“It’s going to take time, but if we all get together and work together, we can get it to where people want to come,” she said.
Marlon Lewis, also a West End Association member, said they’re going to have to go one step further if the park activity is going to change.
“In the underserved community, if you give somebody a spot to hang, they will hang,” he said. “We’re not trying to make a better place for prostitution and drugs.”
Marlon Lewis said the coalition is looking to re-engineer the park to attract more art, culture and business-minded people, but will have to clean up the surrounding area, as well.
Xanamane said the plan includes reconstructing the plaza to update the design and add art and landscaping. The budget of about $250,000 includes those renovation plans as well as programming for the next two years.
He said they’re breaking that total down to try to tackle smaller pieces as they find funding.
He said the city has committed to writing a letter of support for the coalition for its grant application, but as the coalition moves through the process, he said, they may have to get more serious about requesting match funding of services.
The coalition also will go before the Iberia Parish Council in January to present its plan.