In May, the Times-Picayune reported on the unveiling of LSU's design plans for the proposed LSU Academic Medical Center after the drawings revealed for the first time that much of the Lower Mid-City site slated for expropriation would be used for surface parking.
We were incredulous at the audacity of proposing a $1.2 billion medical center, only a quarter of which has been raised, to produce a site design in which the vast tract of land being purchased and cleared would contain no new construction. Those initial drawings showed what the proposed site would look like at completion but contained a caption indicating that half of the buildings would have to wait for a hypothetical "phase two" of development. We even produced a video to further highlight what seemed to be an unjustiable push to amass as large a footprint of private land in Lower Mid-City as possible.
Yesterday, LSU's design team unveiled the latest renderings for the proposed medical center. The Times-Picayune's Bill Barrow was there.
The parking lots -- 2,000 spaces, not including a 1,300-space parking deck fronting Tulane Avenue -- appeared on renderings made public for the first time Tuesday. In prior diagrams of the site, architects had shown hospital buildings designated as future construction. The state wants to use the 35-plus acres to build a 424-bed hospital and has not explained what the future construction would involve.
In fact, there are seven full city blocks of the proposed LSU footprint dedicated to asphault parking lot, comprising close to half of the entire land area being proposed for expropriation and demolition. Even a representative from the City Planning Commission, which has acted as a silent rubber stamp on the process to date, rose in horror to speak against the suburban design. So too did Caitlin Cain of the Regional Planning Commission, part of the inner-circle of stakeholders pushing the LSU/VA to be in Lower Mid-City.
Until yesterday, the architecture firm hired by the state, NBBJ, used drawings like this one to represent the proposed LSU medical complex.
However, that doesn't come close to actually showing what state taxpayers and New Orleans residents would receive for the $1.2 billion LSU has struggled to raise. LSU only has $300 million appropriated and ready to plug into a new hospital. A portion of the $800 million shortfall is tied up in the state's exaggerated claim to FEMA for damage incurred at Charity Hospital during Hurricane Katrina. The remainder LSU had hoped to raise on the bond market, but that idea was conceived before the financial collapse. Even in a bearish economy, State Treasurer John Kennedy pointed out that the PowerPoint presentation LSU was representing to State Representatives as a complete business plan during the most recent legislative session would get "laughed out of the building" if brought before any competent investment bank.
Thus, this new drawing, directly from yesterday's unveiling shows what LSU is proposing to build only if they can somehow plug their massive funding holes.
To us, it doesn't quite seem like the modern 21st century facility politicians and residents have been told about. It seems a lot more like an example of the type of obsolete super block redevelopment projects of the 1970s that have scarred cities across the country, including this one. One witness to the unveiling grumbled that "it looks like a rural hospital." That characterization is, unfortunately, spot on.
If you haven't already, check out the alternative plan that would build new hospitals for less money, in less time, and with less neighborhood destruction.