Letter shows Mayor Landrieu endorsed building a new courthouse on Duncan Plaza

As reported by SaveCharityHospital.com last week - and as Judge Michael Bagneris corroborated in an interview with WDSU's Anchor Norman Robinson on The Hot Seat July 14, 2013 [Pt 1] - 

in the fall of 2010, the City of New Orleans signed a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement [CEA] with the State that obligated the City to build a new Civil District Courthouse on Duncan Plaza replacing the old Supreme Court Justice building. At that time, judges turned over all documentation that they had pertaining to construction of a new Civil District Courthouse to the Mayor and Deputy Mayors responsible for the redevelopment.

In the interview, Norman Robinson queried Judge Bagneris as to whether or not the City had shared all of their studies pertaining to reusing Charity Hospital as a Civic Center.  Judge Bagneris pointed out that they had been "blind-sided" by the City's plan and that you can not provide information you do not have.  i.e.: there is no feasibility study.

This might explain why the City has yet to honor a public records request made by members of SaveCharityHospital.com on June 26th, 2013 to turn over all studies, schematics and documents pertaining to the Civic Center project proposed by the Landrieu administration.

Judge Bagneris responded to Norman Robinson's observation that it is unusual for a judge to appear in the media to advocate on an issue with this comment:

"I knew this seat wouldn't be hot for me because when you're right you're right."

 

The Mayor was invited to the Hot Seat interview.  He declined to appear on the show or send a representative.

 

Bottom line is - The city has a concept - not a feasibility study - on their idea for the reuse of the iconic historic Charity Hospital building to be transformed into a multipurpose facility.

For context: Mayor Landrieu had signed a letter to Chief Justice Catherine Kimball - Chair of the Judicial Council of the Supreme Court of Louisiana in the fall of 2010 - in support of Act 768 permitting "the City an opportunity to build a municipal complex and courthouse on the Duncan Plaza site."

Act 900 created a revenue stream to allow the City of New Orleans to work with the courts to meet it's statutory obligation.  


[Full letter attached]

So what happened?  Why the Mayor's sudden shift in position?

What, or who, persuaded the Landrieu Administration to shelve the idea that the legislature and Supreme Court approved in favor of using the Historic Charity Hospital building as a civic center that would house the Courts, City Council and City Hall all under one umbrella that would automatically net the City approximately $100 million dollars of New Courthouse Building Committee funds and millions of yearly maintenance funds.

In terms of dollars, without the judges support to build a new courthouse in Old Charity, the city ain't got nothing in the kind of dollars it would take to renovate the building.  See part 2 of the WDSU interview here.

 

The problem is that, despite testimony given at the Natural Resources Committee hearing in Baton Rouge on May 8, 2013 - [SB154 begins at 1:00:00] - where the city stated that renovating the Charity Hospital building would cost $100 million dollars - [almost the same amount that the New Courthouse Building Committee intends to spend to build a stand alone Civil District Courthouse on Duncan Plaza] - that figure is largely unrealistic.  At the same hearing Senator Murray testified that renovating Charity Hospital would cost upwards of $300 - $400 million dollars. 

The City's own recent release of their plans for a civic center calls for $270,657,968 dollars of public money or city revenue bonds that would have to be paid back through court fees and/or new taxes. Of the 5 plans considered, the Charity Hospital plan was the most costly. 

The city is in desperate need of a new courthouse NOW and the New Courthouse Building Committee holds the money.  The judges' decision not to use Charity Hospital for the new courts is further compounded by restrictions on column widths and ceiling heights in the old building.  While perfect for a modern day hospital, ceiling heights do not meet the needs of the courts according to the National Center of State Courts.   See the full report here: [Pay special attention to pages 21-34]

The City’s plans for completion of a civic center - again, according to testimony given by representatives of the city at the May 8th hearing in Baton Rouge - extend anywhere from 2016 to 2018.  This also has judges hopping mad.

As reported in The Court Crier Web News Extra:

"Once construction starts, it should take approximately two (2) years to complete.  Act 900 gives a deadline of August 15, 2014 to accept public bids for the construction of a new facility.  Assuming all deadlines are met and the weather cooperates, a new edifice ought to be constructed no later than 2016.  This City deserves a 21st-century courthouse.  Working together, that’s exactly what we will achieve."

Members of SaveCharityHospital.com advocate that adaptive reuse plans for the Art-Deco Charity Hospital building should be put to the public.  One option floated by Janet Hays in a WWLTV interview is to use one third of the building for inpatient psychiatric care for the uninsured and to use the other two thirds of the building for health education offices dealing with mental health and biomedical research, healthcare cooperatives and life sciences.  

Let us know what you would like to see done with the building using our contact form.