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.