“Plan for the 21st Century: New Orleans 2030,” the master plan for the City of New Orleans is soon to become law; it has been reviewed by the city council and amendments are now being considered by the city planning commission. The master plan has been discussed for at least ten years; only after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city did the plan gain any real momentum. In November of 2008, the citizens of New Orleans, in addition to voting for the new president of the United States, voted to amend the city charter that allowed for the creation of the master plan. The planning firm of Goody Clancy was commissioned to author the plan, the city was divided into planning districts, and planning meetings were held where the input of the public was sought to guide the land use plan. What resulted is the final draft of the plan that just recently went before the city council. For more info on the master plan, follow this link: www.nolamasterplan.org.
When Hurricane Katrina flooded the City of New Orleans, two hospitals in the heart of the city were put out of commission. Charity Hospital, is the public hospital run by Louisiana State University (LSU), and adjacent to it is the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital. The Charity Hospital facility that presently exists was built in 1939, and is actually the sixth hospital building for the institution that dates back to 1736 (http://www.mclno.org/MCLNO/Menu/Hospital/History/CharitysBeginnings.aspx) The building was designed by the politically connected architectural firm of Weiss Dreyfous & Seiferth that also was responsible for the Louisiana Capitol Building. Charity Hospital is perhaps the largest Art Deco building in the state. The VA Hospital was built in the 1950s. Both hospitals are part of the medical district that includes the LSU Medical School and the Tulane University Medical School, both of which utilized the hospital facilities for training medical students.
LSU and VA both decided to rebuild the hospitals on adjacent sites, leaving their former facilities vacant with no foreseeable future use. The site selected for both hospitals is 25 square blocks of the Mid City Historic District, which was also flooded by Hurricane Katrina. The schematic development of the LSU and VA hospitals was concurrently developed during the drafting of the master plan. What is most unfortunate is that these two projects, perhaps the largest project developed in the city since the construction of the Superdome, was off limits to the planners drafting the master plan. The site selection was by politicians, not planners. While everyone had the opportunity to participate in the planning meetings to determine the future development of their neighborhoods, residents and business owners within the proposed hospital sites had no say in the destiny of their neighborhood. In fact, they learned of the hospital projects, and that their property would be taken through eminent domain in the newspaper along with everyone else. Some residents had even received federal Road Home grants to repair their storm damaged houses. Although Goody Clancy was unable to review and comment on the proposed hospital projects, the proposed project sites were designated as “Medical Use” on the Land Use Plans. This challenges the credibility of the master plan; if LSU can have the Land Use Plan of master plan modified to suit their project, why can’t a politically connected developer do the same?
The city’s master plan includes goals of promoting preservation of historic architecture, sustainability, and creating and maintaining pedestrian friendly walkable neighborhoods. The plans for the hospitals are completely contrary to these goals. Both LSU and VA propose demolishing several square blocks of historic buildings and structures, removal of streets and relocation of infrastructure to create large super blocks, discarding the phenomenal amount of debris and refuse to some landfill somewhere, and the creation of acres of surface parking lots. In addition, the hospital designs are low-rise, spread out, suburban designs that maximize their footprints, rather than a high rise design that minimizes destruction of historic structures. Both hospitals propose abandoning their present facilities, allowing the present medical district to further decline into a ghetto of vacant high rises.
Preservationists demanded that Charity Hospital be assessed to see if it could be reused in lieu of the proposed new construction in Mid City. The state legislature responded, and passed a bill authorizing Friends of Historic Louisiana (www.fhl.org) to do an assessment of old Charity Hospital. FHL hired the architectural firm of RMJM Hillier, a firm with extensive experience in medical facilities and historic preservation. RMJM Hillier’s determination was that the existing Charity Hospital could just as well be renovated into a state of the art facility for less approximately $250 million dollars less and the construction would take 2-1/2 years rather than 4 to 5 years for the new facilities proposed. The Preservation Resource Center (www.prcno.org) and FHL proposed that Charity Hospital be renovated in lieu of the new LSU Hospital and the VA Hospital be relocated to the LSU proposed site which had less historically significant buildings than the present VA site. In addition, because the hospital was closed, it presented the unique opportunity to renovate the building in one single phase, eliminating the usual difficulties of renovating a hospital such as phasing, temporary relocation of departments, and not hindering the quality of healthcare for a facility that is open 24 hours a day. FHL produced a couple of videos promoting the proposal to renovate Charity Hospital. The first video discusses the renovation (), the second video discusses preservation of the Mid city neighborhood in addition to the renovation ().
LSU and VA have prevailed despite some lawsuits.
FEMA originally offered LSU $150 million for the storm related damages to Charity Hospital. LSU argued that the building was more than 50 percent damaged and therefore were owed $450 million. Imagine that. A 17 story building is flooded on the first floor and basement and is damaged more than 50 percent. The judge ruled in favor of LSU after considering the testimony of Blitch Kneivel Architects (BKA) and discrediting the testimony of FEMA (http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/01/louisiana_awarded_4747_billion.html). (I recall BKA, as associate architect, presenting the schematic design plans for the new LSU Hospital at a public meeting, which means that there assessment of reusing Charity hospital was 100 percent biased in favor of the new hospital.)
The National Trust for Historic Preservation sued both LSU and VA because they claimed that the Section 106 review was inadequate. (Here’s an article written before the judge’s ruling: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/02/plans_for_new_teaching_hospita.html). Once again the judge ruled in favor of the hospitals. (Here’s an editorial letter praising the judge’s ruling: http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2010/04/ruling_in_charity_hospital_cas.html. It takes the typical position that preservationists are obstructionists to progress and that a first class facility can only be achieved by building new from the ground up.)
For more information on saving Charity Hospital visit the site: www.savecharityhospital.com or FHL’s site: http://www.fhl.org/fhl/news/presvalerts/charityhospitalsyn.shtm.
The plan above shows the site plan of both the VA and LSU Hospitals, the elimination of the the city street grid to create super blocks and acres of parking.
This is the proposed LSU Hospital as seen from Canal Street. If it weren’t for the street car to the left, you’d never know it was in New Orleans.
This is the proposed design for the VA Hospital.
Some of the historic buildings that will be lost can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=mid+city+hospital+footprint&m=text, include this public school building , The Deutches Haus , typical double shotgun houses such as this: , Additional information about Mid city can be seen at the following blogsite: www.insidethefootprint.blogspot.com.
The two renderings below are by RMJM Hillier depicting the renovation of Charity Hospital.