charity's blog

Greasing the Skids

Tomorrow, the Public Works Committee of the New Orleans City Council will consider the revocation of the streets in the UMC Footprint (LSU Footprint).  The committee is considering the revocation action approved earlier by the City Planning Commission (an action which will likely appear before the full City Council at some point in June).

The committee meeting is set for 1 p.m. tomorrow in City Hall Chambers.

We encourage you to speak out against revocation of the streets.  

Like a broken record player, we will continue to play on because the facts haven't changed:

The UMC Board/State of Louisiana...still don't have the money to build the proposed hospital complex!

Multiple lawsuits involving properties in the UMC Footprint are underway.  We still have not heard specifics about the fate of McDonogh No. 11 School.  And the dozens of historic homes the state said it would move...are either being demolished or sitting largely vacant.

We will keep you apprised of additional meetings - like the May 26 Hurricane Recovery Meeting chaired by Senator Karen Carter Peterson where the UMC and State will present on the status of the Footprint site preparation.

CPC to meet tomorrow April 12 - 1:30 PM to discuss revocation of streets

 The City of New Orleans has yet to revoke the public streets in the UMC Footprint - a legal step that is necessary if the project is going to proceed as planned (the hospital buildings will be crushing what is now street grid).  Revocation of the public streets is seemingly the last bit of leverage that the city has over the state on this project.  The City Planning Commission will consider revocation of ALL of the streets in the UMC Footprint at a hearing on April 12, 2011 at 1 p.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall.  We encourage you to attend and advocate for the retention of the streets so that the city retains control over the project in some way - perhaps a phased revocation that actually ties to the state's ability to fund the project.  As far as we know, the City Council also needs to approve the street revocation...and it's unclear that the council will be able to do that before the projected April 18 "groundbreaking."  There is no regular council meeting scheduled for the window between April 12 and April 18.

More information is provided in the attached files below.

Please come out to voice any concerns you have surrounding the UMC Academic Medical Center project.

See you there!

Senator Vitter Slams UMC, Calls for Retrofit of Charity Hospital

Even Senator Vitter thinks the UMC and State of Louisiana are acting imprudently by continuing to push forward with the proposed UMC hospital without adequate financing.


In his letter, Vitter advocates first for gutting Charity Hospital down to its frame and limestone shell, then building anew within the old structure. That's the same option that historic preservation groups and several advocates for the poor have pushed since Hurricane Katrina. The second option, Vitter said, is to build a new hospital with a lower bed count and smaller footprint.

Text of the letter attached

Press Conference - Save McDonogh No. 11 - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What: Press Conference
When: Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Time: 1pm
Where: McDonogh No. 11 School (former Priestley Charter) at the corner of Palmyra Street and S. Prieur Street in the UMC Hospital footprint, Lower Mid City, New Orleans
Organizations: National Trust for Historic Preservation, Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Committee to Reopen Charity Hospital, Louisiana Landmarks Society, and allies.
A number of speakers will present the case for avoiding demolition of the beautiful, historic school building, built in 1879....  Students of the former Priestley Charter School were forced out of the school building over the holidays in the middle of the school year.  Incorporating the building into the proposed hospital complex is possible as HUD has expressed concerns over the current design due to financing uncertainties.
Additional parties will be present for media interviews following the main press conference.  A full press release will be available at the press conference.


Back into Charity - Back on the Table

We've been saying it for years: LSU and the State of Louisiana should locate its teaching hospital in historic Charity Hospital.
While some people and powers have tried vigorously to push that idea off the table, we saw today that events have driven the idea back onto the table.  In this morning's Times-Picayune, columnist James Gill addressed the ongoing failure to procure adequate funding for the UMC Hospital meant to replace Charity in Lower Mid-City.  He presented this great quote:

"Preservation groups have been arguing for years that an up-to-the-minute hospital could easily be accommodated within the shell of Charity for much less money than is required to build anew. That proposition was never accepted by state, city or LSU officials, and it would in any case be a little awkward to resurrect Charity after pocketing $475 million with tales of its utter ruin. Still, it would be prudent to have a plan in case HUD decides we are too great a risk and junk bonds won't work."

It would be awkward.  That's what happens when the state government insists doggedly on doing the wrong thing - and then gets proven wrong in a big way.
But as awkward as it might be, we would welcome a statement from the State of Louisiana saying the University Medical Center will be re-constituted in the existing Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital instead of Lower Mid-City. 

The perfect example - of what could go drastically wrong with BioDistrict New Orleans

Have you seen this?

Does this sound vaguely familiar to you?  East Baltimore's overly ambitious biosciences district, after a decade in limbo, has failed, as revealed in an investigative report by The Daily Record.  After spending millions of public dollars to raze dozens of acres and displace hundreds of people, the project has failed to attract the signficant private investment that it needs.

The lesson from this sorry tale should be clear to New Orleanians: we need to increase skepticism of the 1,500-acre BioDistrict New Orleans, which encompasses Charity Hospital.  If we don't, the results could be disastrous for a huge portion of Mid-City and Gert Town.  We could be the next East Baltimore - razed for next to nothing. Even now, we continue to see demolitions and site preparation in the UMC Footprint in Lower Mid-City, despite the lack of funding for the project.  And Charity and nine of its outbuildings remain vacant in the CBD, as does the former VA hospital complex.

There are some lingering uncertainties about the BioDistrict viewed in light of the Baltimore example.  At a recent neighborhood meeting, asked the head of the BioDistrict why his project was different from East Baltimore.  The response: essentially, the LSU/VA hospitals would be the lynchpin of the district. 

However, another person in attendance asked what the BioDistrict would do if funding did not come through for the UMC Hospital (Jim McNamara said the BioDistrict was dependent upon the UMC getting funding at a meeting in the fall).  This didn't seem to worry AECOM, planner for the BioDistrict, even though it's a real concern at this point.  A representative from the company simply said it would reduce the level of residential units that must be built in the district (which is an entirely different concern - why are mid-rise residential developments such an important part of a district that's supposed to be building biosciences infrastructure?).

So, it's unclear at this point how BioDistrict New Orleans will be different.  The driving engines that it claims will make it different are not even built.  And it looks like one of them might not ever get built, the way things are going - the UMC start date was recently pushed back all the way to 2015 (10 years after Katrina!  We could have had Charity reopened long ago).  In the meantime, the BioDistrict continues to destabilize large parts of Mid-City by injecting uncertainty into the neighborhoods about future development. 

Would you want to invest in a home that might get demolished in the next five years to make way for a biomedical light industrial park?  The BioDistrict keeps saying it doesn't have eminent domain powers - but it has the ability to enter into Cooperative Endeavor Agreements.  And as we saw in the LSU/VA footprints, that's a backdoor route that can be used to expropriate - other governmental entities can simply do the dirty work of taking property.

What can you do to ensure that BioDistrict New Orleans doesn't end in a Baltimore-style implosion?  For one, try to take this survey at the BioDistrict's website and give your input on the consolidated scheme for the district.

BioDistrict to present at Mid-City Neighborhood Organization Monday

An important meeting is happening tomorrow evening at Grace Episcopal Church. 

If you have been following our blog posts, you are aware that we have major concerns with the proposed development of the area dedicated by legislative act in 2005 as Bio-district. 

Meeting details:

6:30 PM. - Monday, February 7, 2011.
Grace Episcopal Church at 3700 Canal Street. 
GNOBEDD will present their current progress on the BioDistrict Planning.  
The Planning Map will be on display to the public at 6pm.

At the MCNO meeting tomorrow, you will have a chance to see the current working map that Jim McNamara, President and CEO for the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District, calls the "consolidated scheme" for the 1500 acre footprint bounded by Loyola ave, Tulane Ave., Carrollton Ave, and Iberville Street, and includes the Historical Medical District where Charity Hospital still sits - vacant. This scheme is supposedly an amalgamation of ideas suggested by residents living in the footprint after half a dozen or so meetings. 

Please consider attending tomorrow's meeting if you share our concerns, have concerns of your own or simply want to find out what all the fuss is about.

See you there!




BioDistrict plan goes after Charity, envisions destruction of parts of Mid-City

"Will my house be a park?  Are they going to force me out?  Are they rezoning me?"

Those are the types of questions we've been hearing lately from residents of the 1,500-acre BioDistrict that includes much of Mid-City and Gert Town here in New Orleans as they learn that they live in the enormous footprint.  There's a great deal of uncertainty about the BioDistrict, which covers both the original Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity and VA Hospitals and the two hospital sites in Lower Mid-City.

Mayor Landrieu, (and other people of influence), have made it very public that they support turning 1500 square acres of Lower Mid-City, designated as BioDistrict, inside out in order to make BioTech and BioSciences the economic driving engine for our 300 year old historic city.

While is fully in favor of cultivating and developing BioSciences to create jobs, as well as developing marketing and production infrastructure to capitalize on new medical discoveries and technology to benefit our city and state,, unlike the BioDistrict, proposes using the  vast amount of vacant buildings and land that already exists in order to do so.

Recently, Jim McNamara, the head of BioDistrict New Orleans, unveiled what he called the "consolidated scheme" for the district.  That was interesting because the scheme supposedly incorporates the public input from a lively session that took place at Jesuit High School less than a week earlier.  It involved four different maps. 

We have a number of reservations about this suddenly consolidated plan.  It shows Charity Hospital as a "Allied Health Sciences" facility.  We're not quite sure what that means. While using Charity Hospital for medical and BioScience purposes would be welcomed, we hope that's not just some lip service to those of us who are concerned about the hospital.  The design also shows major development in the area of Lower Mid-City sometimes referred to as Tulane-Gravier.  The neighborhood in the area bounded by S. Galvez, Tulane, S. Broad, and I-10 will likely have to be razed in large part to make way for the large buildings that are shown as planned. 

We're also concerned about the potential for even greater expansion of the already excessively large district.  The scheme showed possible future extensions of the BioDistrict to include Iberville, B.W. Cooper, and the proposed Domain development in the CBD.  It may strike some as shocking that the BioDistrict has the power to "satellite" in other areas of the City - even ones that don't adjoin the current district.  IE: YOUR home or business. Jim Kelly from Providence Community Housing also suggested at the last NEWCITY meeting that the BioDistrict should be expanded into the greater Treme area.  McNamara said that discussions about expansion were underway with the City.  That's not a good idea - the BioDistrict is already far too big and too ambitious!

Our other major concern is the lack of adequate public input about the BioDistrict.  At the January 15, 2011 meeting at Jesuit High School, a number of community members expressed significant concerns about the lack of a neighborhood or community member on the unelected board that governs the BioDistrict.  Additionally, McNamara recently claimed that over 1,000 people have provided input at BioDistrict sessions.  Well, from our experience, that's not accurate.  150 people might be closer to the truth - many of the people who attended the sessions in the fall and the winter were THE SAME PEOPLE over and over again.  And many of those in attendance were people working for the BioDistrict , Bright Moments or AECOM, the planning firm.  There were hardly any residents present to provide input considering the fact that the district has thousands of residents. 

Of those present, great interest was expressed over what drives the GNOBEDD masterplan. At the meeting at Jesuit High School, they said the land use was only projected and subject to change based on the CZO.  However, after weeks of public meetings and a public CPC meeting leading to the approval of the City Masterplan by the City Council, citizens were told that the new CZO would clarify land use but would be built with the land use as a framework. Therefore, land use drives the CZO.  Contrary to what the GNOBEDD is proposing.

We're also concerned about "Bright Moments," the group that's supposed to do the outreach for the BioDistrict and get people to attend meetings.

There are all sorts of other concerns - like how the BioDistrict will even get off the ground if LSU fails to come up with the money necessary to build the Charity replacement hospital (which is supposed to be crucial to the development of the district).  We will continue to watch the BioDistrict closely.

If you live in the BioDistrict and /or share our concerns, please consider attending the next Mid-City Neighborhood Association Meeting taking place at 6:30 PM. - Monday, February 7, 2011. at Grace Episcopal Church at 3700 Canal Street.  GNOBEDD will present their current progress on the BioDistrict Planning.  The Planning Map will be on display to the public at 6pm.

Meanwhile, Charity Hospital sits vacant..... patiently waiting...... for patients.......

Things might not be going along quite as swimmingly as we thought

We've been watching the fallout since last Wednesday when a major revelation emerged at the UMC Management Corporation Board.  The Board's own financial consultant, J.P. Morgan Chase, made it clear to those present that the $400 million financing gap that must be overome to build the Charity Hospital replacement still very much in existence.  It's not clear that the UMC will get the money it needs.

HUD, after considering the pre-application from the UMC Board, came back with about ten different areas of concern that require additional explanations and improvements by the UMC.  The Board's consultant noted that construction and site preparation (read: demolitions) have gotten far out ahead of the financial and management realities.  The "Clean Slate" is not so clean.  It's dirty.

In other words, LSU has demolished nearly 20 structures and cleared 18 lots in the UMC Footprint...but it doesn't have the money to build the hospital.  And now we're not the only ones who have noticed.  The UMC Board's spin about having the funding has been debunked.  UMC can't even go to a formal meeting with HUD about its application for mortgage insurance until it's cleared up the concerns raised at the recent board meeting.

Additionally, it became clear at the board meeting that continued site preparation activities in the UMC Footprint would jeopardize a chance at obtaining HUD backing necessary to bridge the financing gap.  So any further demolitions in the UMC Footprint going forward could potentially destroy UMC's chances at getting the funding required to make the whole project happen.

Here's another point: at UMC Board meetings in the fall, presenters made it clear that if UMC failed to get HUD financing, the project would almost surely fail to garner support in the private bond market.  At last week's meeting, all options were suddenly back on the table.  Those present were told that in the event HUD did not approve the insurance, then the project would simply proceed to enter the private bond market.  It was a very interesting - and noticeable - change of course.

UMC might want to re-consider the option of revamping the existing Charity Hospital at this point - before it blows more money on site clearance in the UMC Footprint. 

Really, given the ill-advised decision to proceed with site clearance before sufficient financing was onhand, we may see the "worst of all possible outcomes" result at this point.  UMC could have simply rebuilt in Charity.  It had enough money to do so  with the FEMA Charity arbitration settlement alone.  Now, since significant funds have been expended to demolish properties in the UMC Footprint, there may not be enough to rebuild in Charity anymore.  And if the HUD financing doesn't come through...and the private bond market isn't a realistic option...then we're looking at a scenario where the state is both unable to reopen in Charity and unable to build in Lower Mid-City.  Gee, wouldn't that be nice?

If the state has sufficient funding left from the FEMA arbitration settlement, the most feasible way to accomplish the task of bringing healthcare back online, as has always been the case, is to reopen in Charity Hospital.  It would have saved endless heartache for residents, prevented displacement of functional businesses, and avoided the destruction of a classic historic neighborhood.

A Fishy Meeting...Hmmm...

On January 12, 2011, Jacobs Engineering held a meeting at the Regional Planning Commission meeting out in Metaire.  The meeting called upon developers to discuss potential adaptive reuse of the existing Charity Hospital building.

Strangely, nobody was notified - none of the consulting parties in our network, anyway, knew the meeting had happened until after the fact.

We don't know who was present at the meeting.

Under the programatic agreement that is supposed to govern how the developers deal with Charity Hospital, consulting parties must be given notice of the State of Louisiana's endeavors to reuse the building.  The failure to inform organizations about the January 12, 2011 meeting raises questions about whether the State and its contractor are complying with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

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