Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Event at Outer Banks Bar Tomorrow (Dec. 1)

The Committee to Reopen Charity Hospital is holding an event at Outer Banks Bar tomorrow. Here are some additional details from Mr. Brad Ott, a member of the group:

The Committee to Reopen Charity Hospital will hold its regular Wednesday meeting, 6:30pm to 8pm at a new location -- The Outer Banks Bar, Palmyra and South Tonti Streets. As road access is extremely limited due to the destruction of the neighborhood, attenders are advised to enter via Palmyra from the South Dorgenois intersection. Our agenda includes updates from remaining area residents and business proprietors still facing expropriation/demolition, reports and information on the status of the S.W. Green Mansion, Dixie Brewery, the impact of the Orleans Parish Real Estate records' computer crash, the just-released Advisory Group on Forced Evictions Mission Report to New Orleans, United States (an advisory group to The United Nations-Habitat) and other items as brought forth to be considered by attending participants. Dress warmly, as the first part of the meeting could be held outside. For more information, contact Brad Ott at (504) 269-4951 or bradott@bellsouth.net.

Mr. Derrick Morrison of the Comittee provided the flyer seen at the top of the post.

Coming Into View: The House Moving Effort

Here's the latest version of the Google map showing the VA Footprint house exodus to new lots throughout New Orleans.  I now have the data entered for the first fourteen "move days" - through mid-November.

Be sure to zoom out so you don't miss any:

View LSU/VA Hospitals Footprint - Lower Mid-City, New Orleans in a larger map

Wally Thurman's home, formerly at 217 S. Tonti, made it all the way to a new spot at Second and Danneel in Central City on the edge of the Garden District where it awaits rehabilitation in front of a large sycamore tree:

Weasel Words

As I've long told anyone who asks, there's no guarantee that even a substantial part of Dixie Brewery will be preserved. 

Here's the operative language from the Programmatic Agreement for the VA Medical Center site preparation:

ii. If feasible, VA will retain and rehabilitate the Dixie Brewery
addressed at 2401 Tulane Avenue and integrate this historic
building into the design of the new VAMC. VA, in consultation with
the SHPO, will first assess the structural stability of the Dixie
Brewery and determine if it will be feasible to retain the structure in
its entirety. If it is concluded that it is not possible to retain and
rehabilitate the entire structure VA will identify the significant
features of the Dixie Brewery and integrate those features of the
historic building in the design of the new VAMC. 

That leaves a good deal of latitude with respect to what's "feasible" and "significant" - if you ask me.


Crews work with Habitat for Humanity representatives to place salvaged items from a shotgun on Cleveland Avenue in the LSU Footprint.

As always in the LSU Footprint, it's good to see salvage underway...but it needs to be placed in context.  Salvage shouldn't even need to happen.  Many of the homes should be moving off-site, just like the many homes moved off the VA Footprint.

Parking Lot of the Grand Palace Hotel

As demolition companies sought a contract to demolish the old Grand Palace Hotel at 1732 Canal Street (down at today's Summit on Economic Opportunities for Local Businesses), a knot of people gathered outside the parking lot that adjoins the vacant, towering building in the lower part of the LSU Footprint.

Homeless Abe Lincoln Banksy Gone

The Dixie Gates - Gone

The elaborate gate on Tulane Avenue has disappeared.

Here's a photo from Michelle Kimball at the Preservation Resource Center, which gives an impression of the distinctive metalwork that made up the gates.

It's not clear what happened to the gates.  There's a chance the owners may have removed them preemptively, as the state was threatening to expropriate the brewery yesterday.


Here's photographic proof from a reliable source that the gates were already gone as of this past Saturday, November 27, 2010:

"Computer crash holds up LSU/VA Hospital"

From WDSU.

There's not much meat in the story, but it does point out a relevant fact, something I've mused about here before.

More Houses in Hoffman Triangle

228-30 S. Miro Street is now on First Street, along with the other houses pictured here, all of which await full rehabilitation after arriving recently.

Here's Bobby and Kevin's camelback in its new locale.

This orange house once stood immediately nextdoor to Outer Banks Bar on Palmyra.

The Peripheral People

Here's a shot from yesterday looking toward the Lake on Cleveland Avenue.  It's a view of the street after it leaves the VA Hospital Footprint, however, and proceeds for two blocks to Broad Street.

As I discovered Saturday night, due to a total lack of signage or other notice, the street is not passable - it is torn up beyond even New Orleans low standards of what makes for a drivable street.  I barely escaped without damage to my car, and I had to cut through a parking lot to get off the street in the end because excavators were blocking the end of the street where it exits onto Broad.  It's a complete mess, it's functionally a non-street, and many people live along the street.

Even for those who don't live Inside the Footprint, the project has negative impacts.  There was barely any planning to show consideration for the people in the site, and there has apparently been absolutely none for those who live in its immediate vicinity.  A number of the peripheral residents attended the most recent VA meeting to complain about the disruptions.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Even the Trees

Crews tore down the large, mature trees along the block of S. Tonti that used to connect Canal Street with Cleveland Avenue.  In the photo above, you can see the last one falling off in the background.

AEcom's study for the BioDistrict noted that only 3% of the much larger planning area that encompasses the entire LSU/VA Footprint retained its tree canopy post-Katrina.

Another Double Shotgun Heading for Demolition in the LSU Footprint

Crews were salvaging items from 2018-20 Cleveland Avenue this morning.  The home, as you can discern from the intricate architectural detail on the facade, is quite old, dating to a point prior to 1890.

There is still no concrete house moving plan in place for the many historic homes in the LSU (UMC) Footprint.

On Palmyra

By the smell in the air, it appeared that precautions were being taken to address a potential gas leak. 

Two small structures at 2212 and 2214 were in the process of demolition earlier (below), and it appeared that the problem arose from that site (on the right between the police car and the firetruck in the photo above).  The house with the columns in the foreground above is still inhabited, to my knowledge.

Here's the house at 2214 Palmyra before:

Here's 2212 Palmyra, seemingly a small, vernacular, former commercial space or shop, as it appeared recently, almost three years after the City Council imposed a moratorium on repairing properties in the Footprint:

So much for 2315 Banks

I found the house bereft of most of its impressive architectural features this morning.

While the salvage is better than nothing, this is an instance where the historic upper portion of the raised basement home (even if just the front half of the long building) should have been moved, if at all possible.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Possible Funding for LSU Footprint House Moves

Here's a way for you to help.

In the middle of the above image, you'll note a public meeting notice.  It's set for tomorrow night:

Monday, November 29, 2010
5:30 - 7:00 p.m.
City Council Chambers, City Hall

The City is looking for public input on how to use $1.9 million of CDBG money for housing, economic development, and infrastructure, with a focus on eliminating blight and slum, urgent need, and benefit to low and moderate income people.

*Please attend this meeting and call upon those present to use a portion of the funds to move historic homes off the UMC (LSU) Footprint.  The rehabilitated moved homes from the VA Footprint, now found in various neighborhoods thanks to Builders of Hope, demonstrate the positive impacts of a house moving effort - one that falls squarely within the goals of the funding grant.  House moving is certainly better than demolition.

Unlike in the VA Footprint, there is still no concrete house moving plan in place for the UMC Footprint.  Over 50 historic structures are at risk of demolition, and seven structures have already been demolished.  Please attend tomorrow evening's meeting to help make the house moving effort a reality.

Dixe Brewery Update

For starters, here are two idyllic renderings of the proposed VA Hospital site that show incorporation of a significant portion of the Dixie Brewery building as part of a research facility.  The images come from the VAMC Site-Specific Environmental Assessment put out in April 2010.

But what's the status of the landmark brewery building at this time?

Here's what I learned late last week from a reliable source:

"...owners of the Dixie Brewery were called in [Wednesday] to learn they have 7 days to accept the offer of $52,285 for the site. But that doesn’t matter because they were told the state will seize it on Monday and demolish it by the end of week.

The appraisal for the site was $1.89M ($1,077,000 for the land – and $813,000 for the brewery and improvements) – but they subtracted off a “remediation” amount of $1,837,715.  They wanted to offer them nothing – because they feel that the property has a “negative value.” The brewery is an icon. Certainly the land is worth more than $52K."

As LSU lines up its "quick take" eminent domain authority, it's difficult to see how $52,285 can be considered just compensation for the Dixie Brewery site.  Even if the remediation costs are close to accurate, I'd like to know what comparison properties the appraisers used to determine the value of the brewery and the land:

While the property certainly is not "needed for construction" of the VA Hospital despite the State's contention, the owners have until this Monday (7 days after they received the offer) to accept the offer or face expropriation:

In other words, the government tells you: take our lowball offer with little notice or we're going to take the property.

The owners of the brewery sent a letter to the City on October 10 of this year complaining of structural damage to the building due to heavy construction on the adjacent properties and streets, as well as crippling uncertainty for potential investors due to the hospital plans.

These additional tidbits of information from the November 2010 VA Medical Center Interim Report (under the Programmatic Agreement) should also be considered because they seem to indicate a different brewery acquisition timeline than the one that's currently playing out:

• VA is awaiting access to the Dixie Brewery to be provided by the State of Louisiana in order to assess the structural stability of the building and determine if it is feasible to retain the structure per Stipulation V.B.2.(c).ii. Access to the building is tentatively scheduled for January 2011. VA anticipates the feasibility study will be completed in 2011.

• VA will commence documentation of the Pan-American Life Insurance Company Building and Dixie Brewery when provided access to these structures. (Stipulations V.B.2.(c).iii., and V.B.4.(b).ii). It is anticipated that documentation of these structures will take three months to complete.

• VA will secure and ventilate and Dixie Brewery upon receipt of ownership per Stipulation V.B.3.b.(iv). It is not anticipated that this will take place until, at earliest, January 2011. VA will secure and ventilate these structures within six months of acquisition.

First, it seems the State of Louisiana is actually going to force access to the building as early as late November - as in, tomorrow.  Second, VA has had access to and ownership of the Pan-American Life Insurance Building for several months at this point - and VA has done work on it.  Third, again, it seems that acquisition of the brewery is being fast-tracked compared to the estimate presented - although, as this note in the City of New Orleans' Nov. 23, 2010 report points out, the City anticipates an interim stage where it will have control of the property after the State expropriates and before the VA obtains possession:

The City will secure and ventilate Dixie Brewery as per Stipulation V.B.3. (iv) and until the transfer of ownership to the VA;

This period of City ownership is key.  While I would encourage anyone concerned about preserving any portion of the Dixie Brewery to contact Mayor Landrieu and the City Council regardless, this anticipated timeline of actual City control of the building means the City has a true chokepoint where it can act to do the right thing as far as retaining as much of the landmark property as possible.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Someone in the S.W. Green House Tonight

This evening, as I drove through the VA Hospital Footprint on the way to dinner with a friend, I saw shadows moving in the S.W. Green House.  The floodlights revealed silhouettes of people moving in a first floor room.  I screeched to a halt, took a few photos, and called the authorities to report the trespassing as the cat catcher drove by in his truck.

If you enlarge the photo above, you'll see the figure in the lower window.

Two officers arrived within about 10 minutes or so - it was difficult for them to find the address of 219 S. Miro because the street is literally gone between Banks and Cleveland.  They searched the entire house, but did not find anyone inside.  It's a large house, and I'm guessing those inside saw/heard me and left out the back.

At this stage, we're still watching the house closely because it's unclear what's going to happen next.  While many preparations are in place, we had also heard from some sources that the house was meant to be moved over the course of Thanksgiving weekend.  At present, the preparations necessary for a move are not evident from the outside of the house.  In the meantime, it's crucial to prevent anyone from further damaging the home.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"minor win" and Major Question

The Times-Picayune was right to characterize some LSU Footprint design concessions by the State of Louisiana as a minor win.

Thanks to Mayor Mitch Landrieu for pressing the State on the concerns and commissioning Goody Clancy to study the issue.  It's good to see that the City made efforts to retain its prerogative to close the streets and permit for a staggered closing.

There also won't be nearly as many acres of surface level parking lot.

Still, even with design changes, the real problem, the size of the footprint, has not changed, from what I can tell. Nor has the expropriation of properties in the UMC Footprint stopped (unless due to the CDC computer crisis).

Really, this minor win...opens up even more questions. Why?  Because eminent domain is definitely in the mix when it comes to seizing properties for the project. And the State is talking about putting in private retail on portions of the site. Even the state is aware of the potential pitfalls of using government takings to turn over land to private entities:

Additionally, Jerry Jones, the state's property and construction chief, confirmed that both parking decks will have retail spaces on the ground level, fronting Tulane Avenue. He also said patient towers to be built along Canal Street will be pushed back from the curb to allow private retail development. That is contingent, Jones said, on getting legal clearance for such land use given that the state is cobbling together the land using eminent domain that requires a valid public purpose for the overall project.

Using takings - forcing some people out of their homes against their will in this instance - for the benefit of private development, like retail space, is what happened in one of the most widely reviled Supreme Court cases in recent decades, City of New London v. Kelo.

Will the state risk it?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Asinine, Deceptive, and Wrong: LSU, UMC, State Continue to Destroy New Orleans Heritage

I've witnessed many things inside the Footprint, many of them rather depressing.  But today marked the first time I felt I was actually going to throw up.  The sheer accumulated enormity of the waste, the destruction, the displacement, and the general contempt for people and the city's architectural heritage hit me all at once as I heard once again the groaning sounds that an old house makes as it's wrenched apart.  It literally made me sick.

As part of the demolition rampage that launched on Monday, crews destroyed another movable house today in the LSU Footprint in Lower Mid-City at 1921-23 Palmyra Street - without even salvaging basic architectural elements like quoins and window frames, as the photo above clearly shows.  Someone on site mentioned worker health concerns, but I don't think that's the real reason.  I think it's wanton indifference and a desire for speed.

It's the seventh building to be demolished in the LSU Footprint by my count.  And that's in spite of the fact that the University Medical Center that is proposed for the site...still does not have adequate financing to build the proposed hospital.

Additionally, the City of New Orleans has not revoked the streets in the neighborhood where people continue to live.  The failure of the Mayor and City Council to take actions to protect New Orleans residents and historic architectural street fabric continues to baffle me.

The demolitions also continue despite state officials' assertions that they just can't wait to move houses:

"State officials, meanwhile, are clamoring for the $3.2 million program's conclusion so they can use any leftover money to move historic houses from the adjacent footprint slated for the successor to the Charity Hospital. Andy Kopplin, Landrieu's chief administrative officer, said the city, after several weeks of requests from the state, has agreed that the remaining balance will pay to move houses from the University Medical Center site."

Clamoring?  More like Jerry Jones bluffing - and blowing smoke.  If the state officials actually wanted to move houses, they wouldn't be demolishing movable houses.  I'm calling that bluff.  The photos of what the State's contractors have done this week call that bluff.

Also, the State says it wants the balance of the funds - but will there even be any money leftover now that more houses are being moved off the VA Hospital Footprint than envisioned in October?

* * * * *

Here's a photo of the house from before:

As with a number of houses in the LSU Footprint, it was not in absolutely perfect shape.  The neighborhood did experience the floodwaters of Katrina after all.  But the house appeared quite structurally sound, it retained many of its historic architectural attributes (fishscale shingles, original doors, quoins, transoms, drop siding, brackets, apron overhang, fleur de lis verge board), it was a contributing property in the Mid-City National Register Historic District, and it could have been moved off site for rehabilitation elsewhere like the homes in the VA Footprint.  It was not yet dead by any means, especially by New Orleans standards.

Instead, the city lost a potential piece of the tax-base today.  It lost a part of its streetscape.  It lost a potential home for a developer or family to rehabilitate.  It lost another little part of itself - a part of the incomparable tout ensemble.

2307 Banks Demolished in VA Footprint

Here's what it looked like when it was occupied just about a month ago:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Signs of Life

People still live in the VA Hospital Footprint.  Even as crews removed the roof of Sheila Jackson's former home next door, Deborah Brown-Cassine's home on Cleveland Avenue sported a bit of seasonal decoration.

At the home of Ruth Sanderson on Palmyra, a light was still on and the trash bin was set out.

Ms. Gaynell's chair was still out on the porch, too.

Unconscionable: The Injustice Visited Upon Mr. Alvin Lee

Mr. Alvin Lee owned the building at 2201 Banks Street, which housed the bar Platinum 3000.

Today, he stood in front of the ruins of that building.

He told me how the state and LSU filed with the Civil District Court here in New Orleans to expropriate his property.  The petition for expropriation had the limit of 15 days to make an answer crossed off (not initialed) and replaced with 10 days.  Still, Mr. Lee was one of the few residents who did file an answer with the court.  He got an extension of 30 days as a result.

Still, 10 days after the petition was filed, people showed up at the building he owned accompanied by police officers and told him that he no longer owned the property and had to vacate.  Mr. Lee told them that they must be mistaken because he had obtained a 30 day extension from the court.  The person called a supervisor - who confirmed that fact.

Additionally, Mr. Lee is still in the process of attempting to determine an adequate amount for his property - and yet his building was demolished just yesterday.

While he takes it all with a calm demeanor, it really is unbelievable to hear him relate the facts.

As he noted several times, he was one of the few people in the VA Hospital site who even decided to file an answer after receiving a stack of legal papers.

This Thanksgiving, I'll be thinking of how thankful I am that I have not had to endure the sorts of poor treatment that Mr. Lee and others have faced in the VA Hospital Footprint.

Death of a Neighborhood: Compare and Contrast the VA Hospital Footprint

Palmyra Street, before.

Palmyra Street, today.

S. Tonti Street, before.

S. Tonti, today.

Lower on Banks, before.

Lower on Banks, today.

Lake-side boundary of VA Footprint at S. Rocheblave, before.

Lakeside boundary of VA Footprint at S. Rocheblave, today.

Upper on Banks, before.

Upper Banks, today.

S. Galvez, before.

S. Galvez, today.

S. Tonti row, before.

S. Tonti row, today (the street itself is gone).

Upper Cleveland Avenue, before.

Upper Cleveland Avenue, today.

S. Miro, before.

S. Miro, the other day at dusk.