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LSU Hospital Plan Oversight Bill Stumbles in Louisiana Senate

Posted on: June 12th, 2009 by Walter Gallas


The Senate Education Committee of the Louisiana Legislature likely killed House Bill 780 yesterday by deferring it, after a vote to report it favorably out of the committee failed. It's doubtful that the bill can be resuscitated.

This bill would prohibit the LSU Board of Supervisors from purchasing or expropriating land for the development of their proposed new academic medical center in New Orleans without approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget of its financing plan.

Representative Rick Nowlin of Natchitoches, author of the bill, took some heat from New Orleans Senator Ann Duplessis, who said she was surprised that the New Orleans delegation wasn’t consulted about this bill. He stood his ground, explaining that this was a statewide matter, and that he filed the bill only after repeated unsuccessful efforts to get financial information from LSU. Joining Rep. Nowlin was State Treasurer John Kennedy who stressed that this was a bill to prevent taking property for a public purpose without having financing in place to carry it out.

Those arguments didn’t seem to connect with the vast majority of the committee which seemed, rather, to buy the argument that this bill could delay the LSU project and cost more money. The head of state facilities planning, Jerry Jones, claimed delays would cost $160,000 a day. No one questioned this figure or how he’d arrived at it.

I testified in support of the bill along with Sandra Stokes of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, New Orleans land-use attorney William Borah, business owner Mickey Weiser, and Committee to Save Charity Hospital’s Brad Ott.

Earlier that morning, some of us attended a rather unusual press conference at which Governor Bobby Jindal appeared along with four of the state’s past governors. It was an awkward moment for Jindal, as former governor Buddy Roemer, joined by Kathleen Blanco, Mike Foster and Dave Treen exhorted the Jindal to show some leadership and not slash state higher education funding to intolerable and destructive levels.

The moment seemed an appropriate complement to our own calls for the Governor to demonstrate leadership in the LSU hospital matter, and order a comparative cost-benefit analysis of LSU’s plans versus the alternative which would incorporate the re-use of Charity Hospital.

It is remarkable that so many in leadership positions aren’t questioning LSU’s ability to assemble a financing package of over $1 billion. In the meantime, the process of appraising and then buying out and seizing properties in Lower Mid-City can continue unhindered.

Learn more:

  • Save Mid-City on

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By a vote of 94 to 2, the Louisiana House on Wednesday passed House Bill 780, which would require LSU to have the financing plan for its proposed new hospital approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget before it could purchase or seize property on the proposed Lower Mid-City site.

We spent two days in Baton Rouge again talking to lawmakers. On Tuesday, we managed to speak to about one-fifth of the 105-member body, and our tallies showed a decided lean toward passing what essentially is a simple bill calling for good fiscal practices.

With the exception of Representative Juan Lafonta, the New Orleans legislators didn’t seem strongly inclined to pass the bill when we spoke to them—remaining non-committal, vague in their support, or somewhat hostile to it. Nevertheless, seven of the eleven New Orleans legislators voted for the bill, with three absent, and one voting no. The no vote from New Orleans was from Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, Speaker Pro Tem of the House, who presided over the vote. The Charity Hospital building is in her district.

Rep. Lafonta rose to speak to his colleagues before the vote, saying without this bill there were no checks and balances on LSU. He talked about the possible demolition of a neighborhood and referred to the billboard on the interstate approach to Baton Rouge which states “Want to save $283 million? Reopen Charity Hospital.” The billboard is the work of theFoundation for Historical Louisiana (FHL).

This was another great effort in the beautiful halls of the Art Deco State Capital which included myself; Sandra Stokes of FHL; Mickey Weiser, owner of Weiser Security located in Lower Mid-City on the proposed LSU site; Brad Ott of the Committee to Re-Open Charity Hospital; Michelle Kimball of the Preservation Resource Center; Jack Davis, NTHP trustee; and Jonah Evans of

We appreciate everyone’s support of this latest effort, another chapter in the unfolding drama that could decide the fate of an ill-conceived plan for medical facilities in New Orleans.

The bill moves to the Senate next week, where it first needs to pass out of committee.

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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.


This past Thursday evening, seven members of the New Orleans City Planning Commission--for the first time before this body in a public setting--heard about the plans for the state and VA hospitals in New Orleans. The commission also got an earful of opposition from the public about those plans, and heard--again, for the first time as a body--that there could be an alternative to those plans, an alternative based on the return of Charity Hospital as a state-of-the-art 21st century anchor of the medical district in New Orleans' Central Business District.

I was one of scores of citizens who testified during the nearly four-and-a-half hour meeting after extended presentations by the city's out-going director of recovery, Ed Blakely; the state; and RMJM Hillier. Dr. Blakely made a point of saying the plans were those of the state and the VA, not the city. The state's representative argued that Charity was in danger of losing its accreditation before Katrina, and therefore no longer suitable for use as a hospital. That argument is immaterial. The RMJM Hillier proposal for the rebuilding of Charity is based on gutting of the entire building to its limestone exterior and floor plates. This structural skeleton would then support entirely new systems inside. None of the existing interior walls or systems would be retained.

The citizen comment was strictly limited to three minutes. Outbursts and spontaneous applause from the audience were promptly tamped down by an ever-vigilant commissioner. A number of physicians spoke in favor of the rebuilding of Charity and the dire need for medical care of all kinds in New Orleans. In my comments, I observed that the city seemed to want it both ways--saying it has no role when its planning department is asked to take leadership; and on the other hand, confecting agreements with the state and VA that very much demonstrate its intimate involvement with these controversial plans.

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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.


A solid team effort on our part before the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee resulted in House Bill 780 passing unanimously out of committee yesterday. The bill would require Louisiana State University to produce a financing plan for its proposed replacement medical center in New Orleans, and that the plan be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget before LSU acould seize any property on the proposed hospital site.

Joining Sandra Stokes, of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, and me in testimony before the committee was Mickey Weiser, owner of a multi-million-dollar security business headquartered in the proposed LSU footprint. Under the current plan, his headquarters could be expropriated and demolished for "future expansion" space for the new hospital. In addition, we had Kevin Krauss, Mid-City homeowner; Mary Howell, an attorney with an office adjacent to the proposed site; Bill Borah, land-use attorney; Richard Exnicios, of Deutsches-Haus; and Brad Ott, of the Committee to Re-Open Charity Hospital.

Next week the bill goes to the House, and we return to Baton Rouge for the next stage.

Learn more:

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.


This past week we submitted comments on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the four latest design schemes for the proposed VA medical center in New Orleans. If plans do not change, this medical center is to be built on 30 acres of land (10 square blocks) cleared of 123 historic houses, within the Mid-City National Register District. Next to this hospital, Louisiana State University plans to build its new academic medical center after clearing even more land -- another 39 acres.

We have repeatedly asked early in the historic preservation and environmental review processes why either institution needed so much land. We were told by the VA that the size of its site was mandated by federal setback requirements after the bombing in Oklahoma City and the 9/11 attacks. In the case of the VA designs, we learned this week that it is possible to "harden" a structure as another means of meeting the setback requirement, raising yet another question about why so much unnecessary land is being taken and so many extra homes needlessly bulldozed.

Learn More

  • NTHP Comments Regarding Design Alternatives for the Proposed VA Medical Center in New Orleans
  • Save Mid-City

The four proposed designs (PDFs)

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: New Charity Hospital Web Site Launched

Posted on: April 15th, 2009 by Walter Gallas


A new web site launched this week in New Orleans promises to enrich the conversation, broaden the debate, and grow the movement surrounding embattled Charity Hospital and lower Mid-City neighborhood. combines an unapologetic point-of-view with a variety of resources, documents, tools and information. It also offers the transparency so seldom seen in the public discussions surrounding one of the—if not the—largest potential redevelopment projects in New Orleans’ history. Visit the site and share your stories, find the schedule of the latest meetings on the city’s master planning and hospital design plans, scour the documents section, send your feedback, and become a part of the campaign to turn back the old way of doing things and achieve real change in New Orleans.

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.