VA Announces Hospital Plan for Lower Mid-City
Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008 at 11:38 PM
City officials and LSU still working to pull together controversial LSU hospital plan. Hundreds of Mid-City homes will be demolished from area. Big Charity still closed.
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November 25, 2008
The US Veteran's Administration today announced at a joint press conference with city and state officials that its plans to build a new hospital in the lower Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans have been finalized. The project, which will cost somewhere between $650 million and $1 billion, is scheduled to take five years from start to finish and will occupy an enormous area just beyond downtown New Orleans bounded by Tulane Avenue, Rocheblave, Canal and S. Galvez Streets.
Making the announcement were a list of local and federal power brokers including Mayor Nagin, recovery czar Edward Blakely, and the VA's deputy secretary Gordon H. Mansfield. Also present were officials representing LSU, Tulane, and the state of Louisiana's recovery administration. LSU and city spokesmen stated that while the finances are not yet in order, they hope to secure several hundred million dollars more through FEMA in order to build a brand new LSU hospital adjoining the VA's. LSU's proposed facility will replace what was referred to at today's press conference as "Old Charity." Known more commonly as Big Charity, the city's largest public hospital, the Avery C. Alexander Memorial Hospital was closed after Katrina by LSU executives who refused to allow the military and others to pump water from the basement and restore power in the weeks after the storm. LSU officials claim the building was damaged beyond repair and use interim use in post-Katrina New Orleans even though parties as diverse as the military, New Orleans Police, national and local health care advocates, prestigious architectural firms and architectural preservation organizations have stated to the contrary.
Mayor Nagin opened the press conference calling the VA's site and design "something spectacular." Nagin, Blakely and city planners made it clear that the VA hospital is the first half of a mega-hospital complex that they hope will anchor a "biomedical district." Working through the Regional Planning Commission city leaders are banking on a future that includes the two hospitals plus Tulane's facilities and many more clinics, the soon to be built Louisiana Cancer Center across from the new hospital site, and a host of other projects they hope will include research and development facilities of both public agencies and private corporations. Altogether the VA/LSU hospital project is by far the single largest redevelopment plan for post-Katrina New Orleans to take shape.
Nagin stated that to this point the city has been active in the required environmental and historical reviews of the Mid-City site, and that "we will have our citizens involved in every step along the way." Blakely reiterated the Mayor's commitment to engaging the city's various communities in the planning and redevelopment phases of this giant project.
Residents of the Mid-City neighborhood that will be demolished to make way for the VA hospital and possibly the LSU facility have, however, not been reached out to by the city in any concerted way. Some leaders from the neighborhood's association are aware of the VA project's status and LSU's plans, but many more residents, especially renters are totally unaware of the projects, or lack solid information about the plans unfolding around them.
Lurline, a renter who lives where LSU hopes to level a block of homes and pave a parking lot adjacent to their hospital explained on Sunday that she was entirely in the dark. "I've lived in this house for seven years. I have two kids. This is a good area, close to everything, quiet." Lurline had not been contacted by anyone from the city, nor had she heard much of the unfolding news about the project. Lurline says she worries that if she's forced to move she'll be unable to find good affordable housing. Jazz, another renter who lives on Banks Street near Rocheblave also was unaware of the VA/LSU projects and said that no government agencies have contacted her or reached out to the community that she is aware of.
Barbara, a homeowner who purchased her house in the year 2000 along Tonti Street explained that she's not against the hospitals per se, but that she worries about the deal that she and other homeowners will get when the city and VA move to buy out their properties. "They're going to do this in what they call 'quick take.' They send us a notice with an offer and we have fifteen days to respond. If we don't, poof, we loose our homes outright and the city don't have to pay." As Barbara understands it there has been little to no outreach by the city to residents of the neighborhood. "People here who have heard are seeking out the information themselves," she explained. "If we have to move, the question is, are they going to be fair with us. How long will we have to find a new house? Will the city help us find a new house, one that's affordable? Rents in New Orleans skyrocket after Katrina. Residential property prices are very high in the tightened market. Added to this is the sour state of the national economy which makes any buying and selling of property more difficult.
Barbara represents one of many homeowners in the lower Mid-City neighborhood, but there are many more renters in the area. Under the current plans moving ahead under the VA project and the plans that Nagin, Blakely and LSU are forwarding on their side, renters will receive virtually zero assistance, financial or otherwise. Instead, their dislocation will be entirely their own burden.
Blakely stated at today's press conference that "the law requires us to find suitable accommodations.... The [property] owners are the ones who are clearly to be served." Blakely gave no indication that the city plans to assist renters in their efforts relocate. He did, however, make it clear that the city will move post-haste to acquire and clear land it hopes to provide for the LSU hospital; "We'll start tomorrow with the acquisition phase and work toward a clean site."
Regarding their efforts to fix the funding shortfall for the city's side of the LSU hospital Blakely was more opaque; "We do have other alternatives. This is a big budget we're working with, and there are other ways we can meet these obligations." He did not elaborate, however.
Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008 at 11:38 PM
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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008 at 11:38 PM
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