Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What about this?

Many campaigned hard over the past few years not only to put the LSU teaching hospital back in the existing art deco Charity Hospital building, but to save that existing historic building itself.

Few, though, have talked about a second gaping vacancy left behind if the two medical centers move to Lower Mid-City, namely the existing VA Hospital complex, abandoned after Katrina.

It's not as historic or architecturally notable as Charity, but I haven't heard of any plans for what will occupy this large, hollow space in the CBD.  It's another part of the equation that hasn't been accounted for - that needs to be addressed.

ADDED: A helpful reader reminds me that the old VA Hospital structure could be swapped to the city for $1 in exchange for the proposed VAMC site (the VA Footprint above S. Galvez) under the Nagin administration's Memorandum of Understanding agreement.  A September 8, 2007 Times-Pic story discussed the possibility.  A November 2007 story noted that the original MOU gave the VA ultimate discretion as to how to dispose of the existing VA facility once the city clears the Lower Mid-City site:

Once the city assembles and clears the land, the VA can choose one of four options [the actual agreement only gives three options] for taking possession of it. Two of those involve a property swap that would put the old veterans hospital, which closed after Katrina, into the hands of the city. The federal government could buy the land from the city at fair market value or lease it for 75 years at a cost of a dollar per year. It could also take title to the 34 acres of cleared land in exchange for either transferring or leasing the old hospital to the city, which would then try to turn the mothballed property into a moneymaker.  The memo gives the VA ultimate discretion over how the land transfer will happen.

Interestingly, a February 2006 VA study of the structure after Katrina - but before the city agreed to the MOU - considered either hardening and renovating or remodeling the structure as possible options for bringing VA medical care back on line.  It included this observation in "Option 2," the option calling for remodeling of the present structure:

Although more time consuming than Option 1, no site selection is required; therefore, this option could
also lead to re-establishing the Medical Center quicker than new construction (2 to 3 years).

It's also interesting to look at the "CONS" laid out in the report with respect to Option 3, the option to build a new facility in conjunction with an affiliate, LSU:

• Option 3 would be complex to implement in that a number of separate organizations would have to
agree on the detailed plan (VA, the State, the City and the US Congress) and funding.
• Since this would involve new construction of a hardened, flood protected facility, initial costs would be high.
• A substantial amount of money would be spent on building a modern facility in an area susceptible to
• Time involved would be longer than repairing or modernizing the existing facility. 

• Uncertain funding for the affiliate is the major issue associated with this option. 

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