In recent weeks, the chorus of skepticism and opposition to the state's proposed UMC "Taj Ma Hospital" has grown significantly.
While it's true that Senator David Vitter, State Rep. Jim Fannin, State Treasurer Kennedy, and even the BayouBuzz blog have suddenly crackled to life with criticism...we note that we and our allies have been making essentially similar arguments all along.
The leaked Kaufman Hall report certainly helped ram home the point that the proposed hospital - weighing in at $1.2 billion instead of the less than $900 million cost for a Charity retrofit - is unsustainable. The cost analysis lines up with the intuitive sense that it's smarter to reuse an existing building shell that meets all the programmatic needs...than to go through the trouble of destroying a historic neighborhood, displacing hundreds of people, and hurting scores of small businesses by forcing them to relocate.
Even the latest CityBusiness article, which, while it gives LSU's Larry Hollier a soapbox, can't ignore that the state, UMC, and LSU are "on the run" politically. Things are not looking pretty.
While others remain under the illusion that the hospital is viable, Hollier himself sees the $300 million that the state has already allocated for the UMC project as potentially at risk:
"Hollier doesn’t share Greenstein’s unwavering confidence. He said the future of the hospital is 'tenuous' and fears the legislature will refuse to release a portion of the $300 million it has appropriated for the project, forcing the state to downsize the hospital."
In other words, it's not at all clear what size or type of hospital complex we'll actually see in the end. That's important because the city council still has a chance to stop the public streets in the UMC Footprint from being revoked prematurely. The council will likely consider the revocation in June, but the council's public works committee will ostensibly address the issue at a May 23 meeting at city hall (tentativley set for 1 pm in council chambers) - please go and object to revocation of the streets given all the uncertainty. If the streets are revoked and torn out, it will mean the end of meaningful city influence over the project.
Hollier's comments on the ongoing problems with UMC funding also reveal his lack of vision:
"If that happens [funding revoked], the goal of building a modern academic medical center that will attract the best physicians and create a bio-medical corridor in downtown New Orleans will be dashed, leaving the city with nothing more than a shinier version of the old Charity Hospital, Hollier said."
Well, as we've said numerous times in the past, a revitalized Charity Hospital building could be the centerpiece of an academic medical center - one that is actually in the downtown. And it would drive just as much economic and job development if located there. Plus, revitalizing old buildings that are still structurally sounds is the smartest and most sustainable way to proceed.
Additionally, the proposed UMC hospital will not create a bio-medical corridor in downtown New Orleans. It actually forces a bio-medical corridor OUT of the downtown by pushing into neighborhoods instead of revitalizing the Central Business District. It's one of the first big steps in a "BioDistrict" march of development out into the historic neighborhoods of Mid-City.