H/t to to Oyster for pointing me in the direction of this insightful post from E at We Could Be Famous.

Preservationists will love this case.

The world’s seventh largest architectural firm versus the State of Louisiana, both arguing over the future of a 1939 art deco building and the fate of an entire neighborhood.

If you haven’t already heard, the State and the Feds are apparently thinking about entering into this great deal in which they raze an entire neighborhood in New Orleans (one of only a handful of neighborhoods in the State listed on the National Register of Historic Places) in order to build a massive new medical campus for LSU and the VA.

Awesome, right?

The only problem is that, currently, in the middle of town, nestled in between the Tulane School of Medicine, the existing VA, and the existing LSU Medical School, there sits the now-vacant Charity Hospital. It’s a behemoth of an art deco building. Its bones are solid, and it’s ripe for renovation.

Quoting from Eli (bold mine):

LSU has argued that their teaching hospital needs to be connected to the VA. Why? Why do the hospitals need to be connected? Are they sharing facilities?

Not really. In fact, there is no compelling reason why these hospitals need to be directly adjacent instead of two blocks away.

What is it about the Charity building that makes it incongruous with a modern facility?

Nothing. In fact, the RMJM Hillier plan does not plan to preserve Charity’s interior or anything about the outdated ward layout. They propose preserving the solid limestone exterior while building an entirely brand-new facility inside.

LSU has never taken the time to properly evaluate the structure of Charity. One of their major claims by LSU is that Charity is unsound structurally because of rusted connectors in the limestone shell of the building.

In fact, RMJM Hillier took a thermal image of the building and found that the building wasn’t even constructed with connectors.

And so on and so forth.

Before we spend 1.2 billion public dollars and destroy an entire neighborhood (a neighborhood, by the way, that includes many homes that have been recently renovated with taxpayer subsidization), perhaps we should seriously study alternatives.

Oyster found this instructive video from RMJM Hillier:

Here is the executive summary of RMJM Hillier’s report. Quoting (bold mine):

The RMJM-Hillier Design Team has looked at many critical factors in this feasibility study, and we have determined that all of them can be resolved in a positive way. Naturally, there is a significant cost to doing that, but we believe the cost of resolving any issue will be far less than the cost of a comparable new building.

Oh and by the way, by “far less than the cost of a comparable new building,” they mean $136,000,000 less.


9 thoughts

  1. Lamar … well done. When we get this type of “bigger picture” thinking (land use, historic preservation, innovation,etc.) to override political capitalism the ‘Quality of Life’ index will finally be seen as “the right thing to do”. Thanks for your good work.

  2. LSU, the VA and the state are not just “apparently thinking about” this project, they say that they have already made their final decision.

    http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/fight_against_lsuva_medical_co.html.

    This is a contentious issue and I don’t think that it is as black and white as the opponents of the project (neighborhood coalitions and historical preservationists http://www.prcno.org) would like to make it out to be.

    To play the devil’s advocate, there are some real advantages of a contiguous co-location of the VA and LSU, which would allow them to share laundry facilities and physically connect the buildings. The proposed project is also supposed to be the anchor of a larger future New Orleans biomedical district.

    Though there are some remarkable old buildings in the footprint, some of which have been rebuilt since Katrina, the majority of the buildings in that neighborhood are either not historic, non-residential or are in a pretty sad state of disrepair (I walk/bike by it on a daily basis. The Dixie Brewery is about to fall down, etc.). Also, the neighborhood hasn’t repopulated as fast as many others. For exact figures, check the GNO Community Data Center http://gnocdc.org/repopulation/.

    That said, I agree that it seems the state has not properly evaluated the potential of renovating the old Charity building. The funding is also not certain, as it relies on a FEMA deal with the Feds that hasn’t been approved and raising a lot of the money by selling bonds. Regardless of which proposal would be cheaper in actuality, opponents to the project could run up costs for the new building site in litigation and protests.

    Anyway, though I disagree with the proposal as it is, I also disagree with those who try to paint this as a simple issue when in actuality it is very complex. Both options have their merits and flaws indeed. I hope that they can come to a mutually agreeable middle option, but I’m afraid that the people making the decisions about this project are really listening to the people on the ground.

  3. Michael, aside from sharing laundry facilities, what other advantages are compelling enough?

    I understand this isn’t as black and white as some may make it seem, but it seems like the current location of Charity could also serve as an anchor for a biomedical campus, given its close proximity to surrounding resources.

    Disrepair is not an automatic reason for destruction.

  4. Sadly the LSU/VA plan also entails destroying a magnificent church — probably the tallest religious structure in the south (the really huge one you can see on the west bound side of I-10). Also, Deutsches Haus — a hundred year old center of German culture and very active community centre is also in the center of the dead zone.

    http://www.savethehaus.org

  5. Ya know, a huge hospital complex is a great thing. But putting it somewhere other than the CBD could be more logical. Say, perhaps the federal city complex at Algiers.

    One problem is taxes. The Tulane foundation already owns a huge percentage of the land in the CBD, and this takes all that otherwise expensive property off the city’s tax rolls, thus robbing NOLA of valuable property taxes. They still have to provide city services, they just don’t get paid for it.

    If this complex occupies the area they want, then you have a huge swath of commercial property owned by entities that don’t pay taxes — LSU, UNO, Delgado (School of Nursing), the VA, and Tulane.

    Why not put it all across the River (still Orleans Parish, and still with pedestrian access to downtown) in already tax free land that is nowhere near as valuable as the current location.

  6. “Lamar … well done. When we get this type of “bigger picture” thinking (land use, historic preservation, innovation,etc.) to override political capitalism the ‘Quality of Life’ index will finally be seen as “the right thing to do”. Thanks for your good work.”

    Thanks PadrePato; I agree 100%… too often, we blind ourselves to responsible infill re-use opportunities in favor of the novelty of newness, regardless of the real costs and benefits.

    I don’t pretend to be an expert on this particular issue (Charity), but I think it underscores the need to study alternatives before embarking on such a huge project.

    Drew, I think it’s be a shame if we predicated the decision on the basis of where the government can derive the most property tax income. As Pato points out, some things, like quality of life, are much more important to consider.

  7. I agree that QoL should be the definite driving force. But, keep in mind that one of NOLA’s biggest constraints to providing improved quality of life is that it’s biggest employers, largest companies, and largest property owners are all tax-exempt entities.

    Imagine Alexandria trying to provide for its citizens’ needs if all of MacArthur Drive, Jackson Ext, Downtown, and the Mall were all taken out of the property tax, sales tax, and income tax, sources.

  8. I mis-wrote the last sentence of my previous post. I meant to write “I’m afraid that the people making the decisions about this project are NOT really listening to the people on the ground.”

    I read the full report on renovating Charity and it seems more than feasible.

    But Bobby Jindal and company haven’t let science and data stand in their way before, so I don’t see them changing their minds. However, time kills deals, and in this case, time and the economy may kill this deal. We’ll see.

    In a similar vein, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology are now boycotting Louisiana because of the Intelligent Design legislation passed last year, thanks to Bobby and his friends at the Louisiana Family Forum… http://www.sicb.org/resources/LouisianaLetterJindal.pdf.

  9. Even though I no longer live in New Orleans, I support the effort to re-open Charity Hospital and to preserve the Deutsches Haus which would be torn down if the proposed building project came about. From the very first, I felt that Charity Hospital should be repaired and reopened. That remains my position.

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