Preservation-friendly site plan for Charity Hospital. (RMJM Hillier)

Preservation-friendly site plan for Charity Hospital. (RMJM Hillier)

It was really remarkable that the Louisiana House Committee on Appropriations devoted an entire day this past week to a hearing about Charity Hospital and LSU’s and VA’s plans for new medical centers in New Orleans. We had an attentive and polite group of lawmakers, whom we thanked repeatedly for holding essentially the first real public hearing on these major plans. I presented the National Trust for Historic Preservation's email petition signed by more than 650 people to the committee chairman, Representative James Fannin.

The presentation by RJMJ Hillier’s Colin Mosher and Steve McDaniel on their feasibility study for the building’s reuse; resident Bobbi Rogers’ passionate statement about the neighborhood; attorney Laura Tuggle’s cautions about the costs and challenges of expropriation and relocation; National Trust Community Investment Corporation’s Kirk Carrison’s tax credit work sheet; Sandra Stokes’ overview; my observations on the plan and preservation’s role — all of these pieces came together to paint a picture designed to show legislators what was at stake and what was possible in New Orleans. It was at this meeting that we presented an alternative to the over-powering and destructive LSU-VA scheme. The image at the top of this post, created by RMJM Hillier shows our proposal, in which Charity is back in play, thereby enabling the new VA medical center to be built on a portion of what would have been the LSU site, saving the majority of Lower Mid-City's historic homes and cultural landmarks.

What was also remarkable was how little information LSU officials could provide in response to repeated questions about the financing of the proposed $1.2 billion plan. The state is already beginning the process of acquiring the properties on the preferred LSU site — yet no more than about $300 million dollars is committed so far by the legislature for the new hospital. State officials are pinning their hopes on an appeal to President Obama's FEMA and receiving an award of nearly $500 million for the damages to the Charity Hospital building. Without this sum, the financing plan falls apart.

The night before the committee hearing, we spoke about these issues before a packed meeting hosted by Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, the French Quarter's oldest neighborhood group. The meeting attracted a variety of people from all over town -- not just French Quarter types, and it showed that all neighborhoods need to be worried when bad planning like this happens. Here we presented a new flyer summing up the situation.

We are up against some serious opposition. As is so common in these cases, we are accused of delaying progress when we start raising questions or presenting alternatives. But the week was full of good press -- print and TV.

On Friday, I was the guest on (yet another) call-in radio show. It was clear that my point of view on good planning and re-use of existing buildings fell flat with my host. He focused on the bad condition of the Mid-City neighborhood, and the need to build something new. A caller said that I was being inflexible, that before Katrina the neighborhood was dangerous, that the houses on the site could be moved to one of the former public housing sites. Another caller, the leader of the movement to create the biosciences district, once again disparaged the Hillier report, and said it was time to move on and plan for the new hospitals.

I took a look at the preliminary designs for the new hospitals for the proposed sites which were released on Thursday. How depressing that was. The massing schemes didn’t even begin to deal with any of the measures we suggested in our December 31 comments as consulting parties to the Programmatic Agreement. Furthermore, there was no evidence that any elements of the two hospital plans had any relationship to one another—putting the lie to the oft-stated argument that the LSU and VA facilities would achieve certain efficiencies through shared facilities.

The designs portend the future of Mid-City if these plans are realized. The rest of the historic district is clearly at risk of further obliteration.

See for yourself what may be on the horizon (click images to enlarge):

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.

Meet Preservation's Faces & Read About Their Places

Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 by Jason Clement

 

On Tuesday while I was watching President Obama write the opening lines of a new chapter in our history via CNN, a way out-of-left-field thought streaked across my mind: what is Candy Crowley going to do tomorrow when all of this is over? And what about Paul Begala, Donna Brazile and that lady with the really blonde hair? Will I ever see them again?

Like many folks out there, this election cycle has taken my obsession with CNN (and the talking heads on it) to an entirely new and unprecedented level. Whether I was at home on the couch or at the gym on the treadmill, Candy, Paul, Donna and the Blonde Lady walked me through the entire process via months of split screens, sidebars and roundtables. Together, we went from the primaries, through the conventions, into the general election, past the transition and right up to the top steps of the U.S. Capitol.

And just as I started to get lost in that and reminisce about the night Paul and Donna got into it over the North Carolina primary returns, I was interrupted by that signature CNN election drum riff (you know, the scary music they play when they announce results) and a shiny new graphic that read, "The First 100 Days."

It was, by all accounts, the official welcome sign for the very next part of the story - the juicy part when nominations are confirmed, staff are chosen, and real decisions are finally, finally made.

With the world watching his every move (and Candy telling us all about it), the coming months are going to be fascinating as President Obama has his first real opportunities to show us exactly what kind of change he has in mind. But it's not just an important time for him; it's a critical moment for us as preservationists to make the case that what we do not only saves old stuff, but simultaneously stimulates the economy, creates jobs, protects the environment and preserves our nation's identity.

Our Faces in Preservation series proves just that. Running right along side of our policy platform and stimulus package, these are the real stories of the movers and shakers (some of whom are pictured above) in our field who are setting the tone and making a difference. And if anyone needs proof that preservation has longer legs than CNN can give the election, they should look no further than the story of Montana's Bridge Lady, the Advocate for Acoma, New Orleans' Soldier of Jazz and the many other pioneers we’ve spotlighted over the past few weeks.

So, before you just sit back and enjoy the show, take a moment to read (and then share!) these unique preservation stories. This is, after all, our chance to lead by example.

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

A Victory for Nine Mile Canyon’s Rock Art

Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 by Jason Clement

 

Art should be revered, which is why we all know the unspoken rules when it comes to museums.

No loud talking because you should be thinking. Don't get too close because you'll probably get beeped at. No refreshments because Dali wouldn't approve of slurping. And of course, keep your hands to yourself because, well, you know how it goes: you break it, you...

But what about those masterpieces that are found in our nation's backyard rather than in its National Gallery? How do we protect relics from the past that - rather than gum chewing and flash photography - face growing threats from industrial development and the dust-stirring truck traffic that it creates?

Pictured above, Utah's Nine Mile Canyon and the region surrounding it contains the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art, with tens of thousands of prehistoric images already documented and many more yet to be discovered. Unfortunately, due to ongoing oil and gas lease sales, the fate of these irreplaceable cultural resources was largely uncertain in the final months of 2008.

However, with the new year has come a new victory for what is also known as the world's longest art gallery.

On January 17, 2009, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from moving forward with leases on more than 110,000 acres of federal land in Utah, including land near Nine Mile Canyon. The decision comes as a result of a lawsuit filed in December 2008 by a coalition of conservation and preservation organizations, which includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, and Earthjustice.

In the ruling, Judge Urbina found that the conservation groups "have shown a likelihood of success on the merits" and that the "'development of domestic energy resources' … is far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands and the environment." The merits of the case will be heard later in 2009. Until that time, BLM is prohibited from cashing the checks issued for the contested acres of Utah.

As is often the case in preservation, protecting Nine Mile Canyon is an ongoing project. We invite you to stay tuned over the coming months as we continue to be a watchful eye and a strong voice for the region's prehistoric masterpieces. And in the mean time, check out our previous blog posts on Nine Mile Canyon to read more about this story as it developed, and visit PreservationNation for additional resources and information.

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

Live Online Now: Plight of Mid-City New Orleans Comes Before LA House Committee

Posted on: January 22nd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

The Louisiana House of Representatives Appropriations Committee is meeting today to discuss the possible reuse of Charity Hospital as a medical facility. The Foundation for Historical Louisiana and the National Trust for Historic Preservation will present a plan that would transform Charity Hospital into a state-of-the-art medical facility, spare demolition of the historic Mid-City neighborhood, and return medical care to New Orleans more quickly and at less cost less than constructing a new hospital. Visit the Louisiana House website to watch live online. (RealPlayer plugin required.)

If you're not able to tune in, today's New Orleans Times-Picayune has a good article about the hearings: LSU-VA Hospital hearing set today at state Capitol.

Check back later today for a full report later from our New Orleans Field Office staff.

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Learn more about our ongoing efforts to save Mid-City.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Preserving History, Even as it's Being Made

Posted on: January 21st, 2009 by Sarah Heffern

 

I've loved history all my life, and have always had an understanding that it's something that happens every day -- that today's now is the future's "back then." I never quite got it when my classmates would complain about all the memorizing dates and names; to me it was all just stories about people and what happened in their lives. Don't get me wrong -- I certainly learned about all of the major events, but they didn't necessarily grab me in the same way as the day-to-day did.

Every now and again, though, History-with-a-capital-H overtakes smaller moments, both in books and in life -- and yesterday was just such a day. I don't need the historian's backward view to know that, as I stood on the National Mall, I was a tiny piece of a huge, breathtaking moment, and every person there knew the same thing. The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was history being made, in front of a crowd of millions.

Help us take a moment now to preserve that piece of history, by sharing your story or pictures from the day. Did you have a chance to be part of the action here in DC? Or did you gather with friends and family to watch the ceremony and parade on television? We'd like to hear from you. Visit our Inauguration page or click here to add pictures or tell your story.

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.