Governor Bobby Jindal's commissioner of administration, Angele Davis, announced last week that land acquisition on the LSU portion of the proposed hospital site in Lower Mid-City New Orleans would be halted. The announcement appears to be an attempt to pressure LSU to adopt a compromise regarding the governance of the state hospital. The compromise was rejected by the LSU Board of Supervisors after a negotiated arrangement steered by the State Secretary of Health and Hospitals had been settled on by both LSU and Tulane leadership.
This development came as both the state legislature was winding down and hope of reviving House Bill 780 faded. This bill, which we had succeeding in passing through the House, stalled in a Senate committee. It would have done something similar to what the governor ordered – halted land acquisition for the new LSU hospital until a financing plan was approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
Governor Jindal's people opposed HB 780, yet they decided to use this leverage to get LSU's attention. It is noteworthy that in Davis's statement below, she recognizes the challenges of raising the funds for this project, which is pegged at $1.2 billion. Here's the full statement:
There remains no agreement on the proposed governing structure and it is critical that we make an intensified effort to reach an agreement before the state acts to purchase the property. The proposed agreement called for a non-profit corporation to operate the hospital, with the corporation being responsible for obtaining debt financing. Without this corporation, or an agreement by the stakeholders to form the corporation, financing the project becomes a bigger challenge.
This will have no impact on the VA Hospital and the on-going land acquisition activities for the new VA Hospital in New Orleans. Today, we are suspending land acquisition activities and efforts for the MCLNO / Charity replacement hospital pending a resolution of the governance issue.
In other developments out of Baton Rouge, we were happy to see that Senate Bill 75 was put to death – at least for this session – after two last-minute efforts to attach it to other bills. The bill would have required that the New Orleans master plan be put to a vote of the citizens again, despite the fact that they already voted to amend the city charter last fall to include a master plan with the force of law, an accompanying zoning ordinance, and a citizen participation process. However, the issue may not really be dead and could come back to life as part of the mayoral or city council campaigns that will begin this fall.
New Orleans' master planning process continues to go forward, but there remain questions about whether the City Planning Commission and City Council will ever really weigh in on the plans for the LSU and VA hospitals in Mid-City. Up until now, these bodies have stood back and said they have no authority over the planning of these two massive public projects.
Walter Gallas is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's New Orleans Field Office.