Pictured, from left: State Rep. Karen Carter Peterson (partial), Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Dr. Edward Blakely, State Rep. J.P. Morrell, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson (Photo: Michelle Kimball)
The short week before Thanksgiving was dominated by Tuesday’s announcement by the Veteran's Administration and Louisiana State University that the institutions had selected the sites for their new medical facilities. As feared — but as expected — they chose the Lower Mid-City sites, opening the doors to the worst possible scenario. It has been one year since the public learned of the secretly-confected deal the city struck with the VA to present it with a construction-ready site — if the VA chose the RPC site, named for the Regional Planning Commission, which has so artfully carried out this exercise in misguided planning.
The morning of the announcement I appeared on WWL-TV’s morning show standing on the neutral ground of S. Galvez, near Deutsches Haus, which is the dividing line between the two sites. Earlier, Kurt Weigle, executive director of the Downtown Development District, had told the reporter that “Charity is in no shape to open as a hospital.” Further, he contended that buildings have a “life-cycle,” and that Charity had exceeded its life-cycle for use as a hospital. My response was to point out that New York City’s Chrysler Building dates to 1930 and the Empire State Building to 1931, and that no one was talking about those buildings — of the same era and type of construction as the 1939 Charity Building — having reached the end of their “life-cycles” as office towers.
The press conference announcing the site selection took place in the mayor’s press room at City Hall. Sandra Stokes of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Michelle Kimball, Bobbi Rogers, and I were among the attendees. Before the event began, it was announced that if anyone was not with the media, he or she must leave, because “this was a press event for the media only.” We didn’t leave. During the press conference, everyone extolled the collaborative and inclusive process leading to this decision — apparently not realizing that minutes before, the citizens had been asked to leave.
At the press conference, Dr. Ed Blakely, director of the Office of Recovery and Development Administration, was asked whether any houses on the sites would be saved. Dr. Blakely replied, “We will save all of the historic fabric of the neighborhood… Demolition is only the last resort.” Blakely had evidently not been briefed on last week's executed programmatic agreement which, at most, would enable the moving of no more than 20 historic properties (of a total of 165). Perhaps his conception of saving historic fabric is to see it pried off of buildings and hauled away in dump trucks.
LSU, FEMA, and other state representatives could offer no new information on how LSU proposed to finance its estimated $1.2 billion project. Assurances were given by Paul Rainwater of the Louisiana Recovery Authority that if the state couldn’t “seal the deal” with FEMA on the amount of recovery money the state sought for damages to the Charity building by January 20, negotiations would continue into the Obama administration. It was reported this week that the state aniticipates at least a $1.3 billion hole in next year's budget.