Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: September 24th, 2007 by Walter Gallas

New Orleans Mid-City neighborhood threatened by VA hospital development.The Preservation Resource Center and its Operation Comeback program developed a great concept a few years ago called “Renovator Happy Hour.” Every other month, a home which is under renovation in one of New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods becomes the place where people gather at the end of the day to sip a beverage and to see and hear from a homeowner about their house renovation.

This past week's host house on Palmyra Street between S. Miro and S. Tonti is located essentially at ground zero on the footprint of the proposed new VA hospital in Mid-City, a National Register District. I had the opportunity to walk around the immediate area that evening, to talk to neighbors who were back, and found it all particularly distressing that these hard-working residents might lose their homes to this 25-block development. The neighborhood looked mostly intact, with complete collections of houses either renovated or at least boarded—but all of it could be wiped away if plans go forward. “This is how the mayor welcomes us back?” remarked a neighbor who has repaired his house using insurance proceeds. He had stayed during Katrina and then had to be rescued by boat when water reached about five feet.

Because federal agencies are involved in this project and because the project will clearly impact a National Register District, Section 106 review (required by the National Historic Preservation Act) must be undertaken so all alternatives are examined. To date we have heard nothing about plans to initiate 106 consultation. A member of the staff of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation told me this week that the Advisory Council was working on a letter to all relevant federal agencies alerting them that 106 review must be a part of their planning before they go forward much farther.

Walter Gallas is director of the New Orleans Field Office.

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