New Orleans Recovery Plan Calls for $3.5 Million Katrina Memorial on a 'Homeric' Scale

Tucked inside a $14.4 billion blueprint for the rebuilding of New Orleans is a proposal for a Hurricane Katrina monument on a grand, "Homeric" scale, like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

The idea is to honor Katrina's victims and the spirit of New Orleans, and create a tourist attraction.

But with many sections of the city still in shambles and only about half the population back 21 months after the hurricane, some question the need for a $3.5 million memorial, even if it is paid for mostly with private money, as proposed.

"What will it memorialize? How many people came back?" said Angele Givens, president of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association.

The rebuilding plan is making its way through city approval processes. While the memorial is a far lower priority than upgrading drainage and reconstructing neighborhoods over the next decade, it is still listed among the top projects.

Troy Henry, project manager for the Unified New Orleans Plan, said planners believe -- and the local arts community seems to agree -- that a memorial would create a place where people could reflect on Katrina.

"It's something that's with us everyday, the remnants of it anyway, and I think it's affected so many people, not only the city and its fiber -- its architectural and structural fiber -- but also the fabric of the people living here," said Mary Len Costa, director of public art for the Arts Council of New Orleans.

No specific design -- or method of choosing one -- has been proposed, and no location has been specified. But the planners said they envision something "Homeric, on the order of the Arch of Triumph" and are urging completion by 2018.

"The scale of the project will transform the selected section of town and will reinforce the notion of New Orleans as the most European of American cities and as the leading city of the Caribbean," the UNOP planning team says in its proposal.

Other Southern communities have monuments to hurricanes. In Charlotte, N.C., a sculpture depicts the 49 deaths and devastation wrought by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. In Islamorada, Fla., a memorial styled as a crypt honors the 408 victims of the unnamed hurricane of 1935.

Katrina killed more than 1,600 people in Mississippi and Louisiana. Several memorials have been proposed or built in New Orleans. One, with sculptures depicting rising floodwaters and an empty house in the still-devastated Lower Ninth Ward, was dedicated last summer.

Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said if a memorial can serve as a public reminder of the resilience of the city and its residents, "then it can only be good."

It is not at all clear whether the memorial will ever get built. No money has been secured for the project. The costs of upkeep were estimated at $70,000 a year.

Givens said she would rather see money, private or otherwise, spent on rebuilding neighborhoods and bringing residents home.

City Council president Oliver Thomas said the best thing officials can do to honor the storm's victims is to bring New Orleans back, with "better schools, better streets, safer streets and lower utility bills."

"If we do that," he said, "it will be the greatest Katrina memorial we could have."