Why Charity for a Civic Center when Judges emphatically said no?

As reported by SaveCharityHospital.com on July 15, 2013, the City of New Orleans signed a Cooperative Endeavour Agreement (CEA) June 30, 2010 with the State that obligated the City to build a new Civil District Courthouse on Duncan Plaza - replacing the old Supreme Court Justice Building.  

In a July 25, 2013 article, The Uptown Messenger reported that the Charity Hospital building: “doesn’t work for the Civil Courts who have their own plans and money to refit the former state office building site in Duncan Plaza. “We won’t be moving to Charity Hospital,” says Judge Bagneris. Evidently many other CDC judges agree.”  

In fact, Judge Bagneris said as much in a letter to Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant dated June 10, 2013.  

Uptown Messenger continues…  

One of those who is hoping that the mayor is able to change the minds of Judge Bagneris and his fellow jurists is Pres Kabacoff. Kabacoff, whose company, HRI, is one of the best in the world at taking old buildings and making them like new, is also one of New Orleans’ best visionaries and thinkers.

Really?  My my how things do change.  This is the same Kabacoff who - in a Times Picayune article dated October 27th, 2009 criticized the idea of moving City Hall into Charity Hospital. Rebecca Mowbray wrote:  

“But Pres Kabacoff, chief executive of Historic Restoration Inc., sees problems with the approach. It doesn't make financial sense to restore a million-square-foot building when the city needs only 400,000 square feet, he said. And Kabacoff added that it's hard for a public body to use historic renovation tax credits, so Charity might have to be sold to a private interest and then leased back to the state or city on a long-term basis.  

Location, location, location  

Kabacoff said City Hall's current location is tough to beat in terms of visibility, accessibility and nearby public space.  
With plans under way to move state offices into Benson Tower, the former Dominion Tower, and to create a "sports entertainment district" in the former New Orleans Centre mall, and with proposals under review to put a streetcar line on Loyola Avenue, the value of City Hall's current location will only improve. Meanwhile, open space on Duncan Plaza and surface parking lots on both sides of Loyola Avenue give plenty of options for reconfiguring space.  
"I would still keep it in that location, Kabacoff said."

We at SaveCharityHospital.com question why - at a time when residents of New Orleans desperately need a new Civil District Courthouse as well as other acute needs such as psychiatric and medical care, two consent decrees, and redevelopment of blighted neighborhoods - everything must be put on hold for the whims of a real estate developer whose interests are now in acquiring “that large piece of existing land just across from the Superdome [that] would become an outstanding investment opportunity developers from around the country would kill for.” Pres Kabacoff  

One would hope that Kabacoff is not the puppet master behind the rush to move out of City Hall and into Charity Hospital but, suddenly, in 2010, after legislation was signed that would allow the City to build the new Civil District Courthouse and a Municipal Complex on Duncan Plaza, there was an urgency to move City Hall into Charity Hospital to accommodate Kabacoff’s new scheme.  That scheme was eloquently outlined in an article by Katy Reckdahl, on October 31, 2010 for The Times-Picayune titled:
Iberville housing complex area: the next Lakeside Shopping Center?  Reckdahl reported:

‘’While the city is partnering with HANO and its developers for the Choice Neighborhoods grant, Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said the administration has not committed to city occupancy in the Charity building. Instead, he said only that the "adaptive reuse of Charity Hospital" was part of a larger vision for a redeveloped New Orleans, and that the city was working with the state to consider options.   But Kabacoff noted that Landrieu has been clear that the current City Hall is outmoded. And, in Kabacoff's view, a move to the Charity building would be "a lot more important than just a new house: It would also kick-start a transformation of the city. Two birds with one stone."”  

So what other plans does Kabacoff have for PUBLIC property and PUBLIC lands in New Orleans that will be paid for with PUBLIC money?  

At a June 19 BioDistrict Board Meeting Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andy Kopplin - who is also a commissioner on the BioDistrict Board - asked his fellow commissioners:  

What “is the grand vision for Duncan Plaza?  …  I think it is a critical civic facility and I don’t think that at this point the City’s perspective is that the best and highest use of that particular piece of property is for a courthouse.“  

This begs the question – what does the City think is the best and highest use for that public space?  Or, should we ask, what are Pres Kabacoff’s plans for Duncan Plaza?  

While the Judges have been completely open and transparent about making their plans for their new Civil District Courthouse available to the public, not one document regarding the City’s plans for repurposing Charity Hospital was made available to the public until after it was discovered that the City’s Property Management Office had submitted a $300 million dollar request to the City Planning Commission during their Capital Budget request hearings - after the fact.  Yet, we know that the City have been quietly working on these plans for at least TWO YEARS!  

In a comment to SaveCharityHospital.com, Nick Kindel of the Citizens Participation Project said:
"I think that it is important to discuss the alternatives for a new Civic Center (in Charity Hospital or elsewhere) in a public process. I think that it is disappointing that the City has not done that. It is obvious from the plans that have come out recently, that the City has been working on this for a while. Yet the City has not made these plans public at all. This spring when all City Departments make their Capital Budget requests, there was no mention of a $300 million Civic Center. It was only after the meeting to discuss this proposal was the request made, and it was only after the proposal came out in the media that the City provided its $300 million plans for a Civic Center at Old Charity."
City Quietly Requests $300 million to move City Hall to Charity Hospital  

We agree.  We think that residents of New Orleans should always be included in the planning process in order that our priorities are identified and fulfilled.  The Uptown Messenger asks: “So the question in 2013 is who will play the roles of Dave Dixon, Moon Landrieu and John McKeithen, to end the deadlock and come up with a resolution to the dilemma of moving City Hall out of its current obsolete facility into a future home that will bolster the remarkable comeback since Hurricane Katrina of this resilient city that we call the Big Easy but where nothing worthwhile is ever easy.”

SaveCharityHospital.com asks: remarkable comeback since Hurricane Katrina for whom? Gert Town?  Zion City?  Hollygrove?  The Lower Nine?  New Orleans East?  Central City? – Just a few neighborhoods that do not necessarily feel “bolstered”.   Why not ask them what critical services they might want to see in Charity Hospital.    

How about a full service psychiatric care inpatient facility for the uninsured that would benefit the entire city?  SaveCharityHospital.com will be publishing such a plan soon.  

Perhaps Pres Kabacoff - given his ability to be able to change his mind as evidenced above - may support the concept envisioned by one of our members. [Concept idea attached].

Stay tuned y'all