A suburb of New Orleans is responding to a drop in participation in its youth sports leagues by privatizing municipal parks, as well as removing restrictions about what teams a child may join based on where they live.
The city of Kenner is already leasing three of its outdoor athletic facilities to private operators and wants to have this practice become a law in order to ensure that city parks are being used to their fullest extent.
City officials began to acknowledge that private leagues that specialize in particular sports are growing in popularity compared to city and parish recreation programs. Because of this, they want to cater to the many participants of these private leagues instead of banning them from using city facilities.
“There was a time when city and parish recreation systems wanted to fight these private travel programs. Well, unfortunately, the parishes and cities have lost that fight," said councilman Dominick Impastato. "The onus then becomes on the city: Do you want to continue to tell your citizens, 'Sorry, we don't provide that for you?'"
Another problem plaguing Kenner and the use of parks is a drop in the population of the city. According to recreation direction Ken Marroccoli, the parks that lack use are in areas where “populations are diminishing.”
Marroccoli said that while he is still gathering participation data to show the drop in use, it is clear there is a problem based on the decline of baseball teams the city has. This year they expect to have about five teams, which Marroccoli estimates is about a fifth of the number of teams from a decade ago.
Impastato commented on the lack of teams saying, “When you see the team registrations, it’s absolutely staggering. It becomes blatantly obvious there’s an issue going on.”
His proposal would allow children to play on teams that are not in their district, as well as allow children from outside of Kenner to participate with city teams.
While privatizing parks and relaxing boundaries might seem detrimental to increasing the use of some of the parks in Kenner, Impastato argues that the opposite is true and these new regulations have been put in place to keep parks throughout the city open.
“There is no intention to close down or consolidate parks. That’s not it. What we are trying to do is come up with a way to increase demand at each of those parks.”