Updated: Charity Hospital Plans: Top Secret?

Much information has been revealed lately about Mayor Landrieu's plans to turn Charity Hospital into a new civic center.  We at SaveCharityHospital.com have learned that design plans exist.  So why does the City have yet to share those plans with the public?  Is Charity Hospital not a public building? Is money being spent on developing plans not public money?

The issue forcing the City's hand regarding their plans for the historic Charity Hospital is their lack of funding to renovate the building.  

NOLACPP reported:
"An interesting revelation came up at Property Management’s meeting on June 24; they were requesting $300 million to build a new Civic Center at Charity Hospital."

"The original Property Management capital budget request does not mention $300 million for a new Civic Center. The first mention of the proposed Civic Center was at Property Management’s public hearing on June 24. Property Management then submitted a revised request that included the Civic Center request on June 25, the day after their public hearing. If you are going to $300 million (which is more than the entire approved 2004 Bond Sale) to build a new City Hall, should you let the public know about it ahead of time?"

Other recent incidences point to the City's attempt to cobble together the millions of dollars of restoration money.  At the Natural Resources Committee hearing in Baton Rouge on May 8, 2013, legislators – after hearing conflicting testimony between - on one side - Senator Edwin Murray, the President of BioDistrict New Orleans, and Justice Michael Bagneris - [acting as Chairman of the New Courthouse Building Committee] -  and The City of New Orleans on the other - voted to pass Bill SB 154.   The bill was introduced by Senator Murray on behalf of the court judges, that:  “Authorizes the state to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with BioDistrict New Orleans providing for use of the Louisiana State Supreme Court site and state office building site located at 325 Loyola Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana.”  

So, why on earth would judges call upon Senator Murray to ink that deal you ask?  Well, as it turns out, the City had signed a CEA with the State three years ago that obligated the City to build a new Civil District Court on Duncan Plaza at the site of the old Supreme Court building but it never happened.  

In fact, SaveCharityHospital.com has learned that in the fall of 2010, Mayor Landrieu inked a letter to Chief Justice Catherine Kimball - Chair of the Judicial Council of the Supreme Court of Louisiana - in support of Act 768 permiting 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 statuatory obligation.

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

What, or who, persuaded the Landrieu Administration to shelve that idea 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.  

The problem is that, despite testimony given at the the May 8th legislative hearing that renovating the building would cost $100 million dollars - [coincidentally, almost exactly the amount the New Courthouse Building Committee intends to spend their dollars on to build a new Civil District Courthouse] – that figure is largely unrealistic.  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 generated bonds that would have to be paid back through fees and/or 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 has the money.  The decision not to use Charity Hospital for the new courts was further compounded by restrictions on 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 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."

Another indication that the city was planning the new civic center in Charity Hospital came up at a public works committee hearing in June in the City Council Chambers.  As part of the discussion pertaining to the accounting of $250 million dollars of hazard mitigation grant money - [video segment begins at about 1:13:30] – Deputy Mayor Grant, speaking on behalf of Col. Jernigan from the Department of Public Works, revealed that $50 million dollars of that money has been allocated to a potential “future civic center”.  That left some Councilmembers scratching their heads.  Apparently they seemed to not have seen the Landrieu Administration plans either.  Deputy Mayor Grant had to clarify that the new civic center is - in fact - Charity Hospital.  

At the May 8th legislative hearing, the City insisted that ultimately the responsibility for ensuring that the new courthouse gets built falls on the city and that the BioDistrict has no money to foot the bonds or leverage private/public partnerships.  

That leaves taxpayers of New Orleans in a situation commonly known as a cluster… ahem.  

Here is a novel idea, why doesn't the City meet it's obligation to build the new Civil District Courthouse on Duncan Plaza like they said they would three years ago, build the new City Hall next to it… like they said they would – [or repair the building that they already have] – renovate Charity Hospital to become a state-of-the-art psychiatric facility while leasing out research offices and clinics to sustain it – [something that is desperately needed!] - and dissolve the artificial “built community” BioDistrict boundary line and fold it's mission into other agencies better equipped to attract researchers to develop where ever they want in New Orleans.  

Stay tuned.  Lot's more to come.