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Thanks to Partners in Preservation, five important projects have been completed on "community anchors" in historic New Orleans.

Last Friday, at St. James AME Church, we announced the completion of the five New Orleans Partners in Preservation projects, whose grants were announced in May of last year.

Each of the grant recipients was facing different challenges with their historic property. Through the assistance of these grants, they were able to achieve things that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do – or at least wouldn’t have been able to do so quickly

This is a program which consciously shines a light on “community anchors,” important places in the community that serve as gathering places, help define their neighborhoods, and also help all of New Orleans take further steps to recovery and revitalization. There is plenty more to do, but thanks to Partners in Preservation, our grantees were able to complete their intended work, and we are thrilled we could be a part of that.

At St. James AME Church in Mid-City, a $100,000 grant was used for the repair and replacement of the pressed tin ceiling and plaster walls of the sanctuary. At St. Alphonsus Art and Cultural Center in the Lower Garden District, an $80,000 grant was used for the restoration of the 1891 front portico of the church building, which included replacing the roof and repairing stucco, millwork, and columns. At St. Augustine Church in Treme, a $75,000 grant was used for the parish hall to replace the shingle roofing and repair rotten and termite-damaged wood to the second level balcony floor and ceiling. At Odyssey House, a $75,000 grant was used for window and shutter replacement in order to improve the building’s appearance and also protect this important Esplanade Ridge-Treme institution from future storms. At Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District, a $70,000 grant was used for the stabilization of the perimeter wall and wall vaults, as well as the installation of a drainage system to prevent future deterioration of the wall vaults.

You can find more information online at the Partners in Preservation's website, including updates on all five sites.

Joining me at the announcement (from left to right in the photo above) was Linda Ibert of St. Alphonsus Art and Cultural Center; Rachel Witwer, executive director of Save Our Cemeteries, Inc.; Rev. Otto Duncan, our host at St. James AME Church; Linda Harris of Augustine Church; Billy Groome, president of Odyssey House; and Tina Pearson of American Express. We also owe a special thanks to Meg Lousteau for all of her assistance as project manager, liaison, and grants manager on the ground.

Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


Many of us have been saying it for a long time, but now it has been verified through a recent public opinion poll—the citizens of New Orleans and political leadership are in two completely different places (literally and figuratively) when it comes to where to build a new LSU hospital. And it could have implications for the next round of municipal elections.

While city officials have been pushing the plan to build a new LSU hospital in Lower Mid-City, the citizens of New Orleans aren't buying it. Sixty percent of registered voters polled said that they favored building a new modern hospital within the shell of old Charity Hospital instead, with only 30 percent favoring LSU’s and the politicians’ plan. (The remainder didn’t know or didn’t respond to this question.)

Dr. Edward Renwick, a highly respected political scientist in New Orleans who is frequently sought-after for his analysis of the local electorate, surveyed 504 registered voters in Orleans Parish recently on, among other things, their attitudes about the LSU hospital plans, their views of elected officials, and how politicians’ stances on the hospital plans might affect the voters’ choice of the next mayor of New Orleans. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 points.

The voters of New Orleans are an engaged group of people—likely more engaged now than ever before. Ninety percent of those surveyed had heard a lot or a little about LSU’s plans. Eighty percent had heard about the alternative to rebuild within Charity’s shell. And given the choice, they favored a return to Charity two-to-one.

Further distancing themselves from the stance of the city’s current leadership, 64 percent of the voters surveyed said they would prefer a mayoral candidate in the next election who would consider alternatives to the LSU hospital plans, and not continue Mayor Nagin’s approach to push the LSU hospital plan into Lower Mid-City.

Two-to-one, registered voters said they believe that the Charity-rebuild option would cause faster recovery and economic development in the city’s Central Business District.

This is an important wake-up call for the city’s political leadership, the business community, state legislators, the governor, LSU, and federal officials. The citizens of New Orleans know what they want, and they don’t want what the chosen few are telling them they need to have.

The disparity between the citizens’ views and the positions of our leadership should be taken seriously. If the position of the current leadership doesn’t change, the voters will see to it that they get the representation they expect and deserve.

The poll was commissioned by Smart Growth for Louisiana, a non-profit New Orleans-based organization that supports citizen participation and transparency in planning. It was conducted July 20-27, 2009.

Learn more about our efforts to save Mid-City New Orleans.

Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from New Orleans: Federal Lawsuit Moved to NOLA

Posted on: July 30th, 2009 by Walter Gallas 2 Comments


We learned Tuesday that the federal court has ruled that the case the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed against FEMA and the Department of Veterans Affairs in DC federal court in May will be transferred to New Orleans federal district court. Our suit maintains that the two federal agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they OK’d the development of hospitals for Louisiana State University and Veterans Affairs in the Lower Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans.

The suit was filed in DC because the decisions were made by agency officials in DC, and the case has broader implications about the application of environmental law to historic properties. Nevertheless, we understand the court’s ruling for the venue and accept it. Local citizens and local media will have a greater opportunity to follow the case, which was a key part of the court’s reasoning, and this could be a very good thing.

The City and the State had asked the court to intervene in the case, but this decision hasn’t been made.

Read the full statement from the National Trust on this decision.

Learn more about our efforts to save Mid-City New Orleans.

Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


The VA Medical Center in New Orleans.

The VA Medical Center in New Orleans.

Saying that it’s the only way to add closer-in laboratory facilities, a dental clinic, and sterile processing and distribution services, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing to demolish the five- story VA Building #2, which sits next to the VA Medical Center (VAMC) in New Orleans Central Business District. On the vacant land created by the demolition, VA would install two “mobile support units,” which would remain in place “for no more than five years while the replacement VAMC is built.”

As part of the review process, VA posted a “Site-Specific Environmental Assessment,” and Betsy Merritt and I, on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, submitted a comment letter as well as supplemental comments.  Among other things, we observed that the area around the current VA Medical Center contains numerous vacant lots already that could be used for the mobile units. In the vicinity, the state is adding to the inventory of vacant downtown land by completing the demolition of the State Office Building and former State Supreme Court building across from City Hall. A new state office building will not be built on the site.

VA Building #2, which they plan to demolish.

VA Building #2, which they plan to demolish.

VA Building #2, constructed in 1952, is one of fifteen buildings making up the New Orleans Medical Historic District. VA’s assessment minimized the impact on the district of the loss of this building. We observed that the loss was hardly insignificant, in a district of that size.

VA published responses to our comments this past week. In the response, VA supplied new information, saying that nationwide, the VA is under serious pressure to provide sterile instruments and sterile environments to its patients—and that the only way to do this would be to demolish Building #2 to create the space on which to place its sterile processing and distribution functions. Currently, these functions are served out of a suburban warehouse and within the existing VA clinic. Demolition, though, seems a radical solution to a systems problem.

VA also minimized the impact upon the medical historic district of this building’s demolition, saying it is not a “lynchpin element” in the district—a new standard never used before, and one I think someone just decided to create.

VA’s determination to demolish this building is striking. We will be responding to VA with further comments.

Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from New Orleans: Citizens Sue Mayor in VA Hospital Case

Posted on: July 17th, 2009 by Walter Gallas


This week, four New Orleans residents, representing the many citizens who have been frustrated by the city administration’s lack of responsiveness to their concerns about the plans for a new VA hospital in the Lower Mid City neighborhood, took their grievances into the local civil district court.

In their suit, the residents contend that Mayor Nagin disregarded multiple provisions of the City Charter as well as applicable state law, when he entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in November 2007. This is the agreement which Lower Mid City residents awoke to that fall, when they opened their newspapers and learned the mayor had committed the city to seizing and clearing 34 acres of the Mid City National Register District, closing the city streets, ripping out old infrastructure and installing new, and presenting VA with a “construction ready” site for a new medical center. In addition, the Mayor agreed to bind the city to paying as much as $5 million in damages if there is any breach in the city’s obligations—again, all of this committed without benefit of public notice, City Council or City Planning Commission action, appropriation of funds, or certification by the city’s director of finance.

In a series of fourteen counts, the plaintiffs’ attorneys lay out a string of violations which, they say, “transcend the facts of this case and raise significant issues of great importance to all residents, homeowners and business owners of the City of New Orleans regarding the Charter and whether the Mayor has the legal authority under the Charter to unilaterally authorize the taking of private property of homeowners and business owners without public hearings and without prior approval of the City Council and the City Planning Commission.” Two of the attorneys in the case served in previous New Orleans administrations as city attorneys.

So many of us have been pleading for the last two years to bring the planning of the LSU and VA hospitals into the light of day. We have asked the City Council and City Planning Commission to hold public hearings. We have asked that the plans be made a part of the master planning process currently underway. Nevertheless, the go-it-alone style of this administration has prevailed. The City Charter is the city’s legally binding operating manual on how things are supposed to be done in city government. It’s easy to follow, and not difficult at all to understand. Fundamentally, this case is saying the mayor chose not to follow the rules. Perhaps a date in court will provide a long-overdue course for this mayor in how to properly operate city government.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is not a party to this suit, but clearly the case supports points we have been making for quite some time.

Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from New Orleans: Land Acquisition for LSU Hospital Halted

Posted on: July 2nd, 2009 by Walter Gallas


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.

> Learn More About Our Efforts to Save Lower Mid-City New Orleans

Walter Gallas is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's New Orleans Field Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.