Thursday, September 29, 2011

Outside the Footprint

Exactly two years ago, I made my first post here at Inside the Footprint after my initial steps into the Footprint itself.  Nearly one thousand two hundred and twenty five posts emerged since that date.

And now, while there are still things left to cover - like the impending relocation of McDonogh No. 11 School - it's time to step out of the Footprint for good and end what has very clearly become...a counting of the costs.

I can only hope that the words and images recorded here, inadequate as they are, serve as some cautionary tale.

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Sandra Stokes

No other figure has done more than Sandra Stokes to galvanize the effort to re-use Charity Hospital and avoid the destruction of an historic New Orleans neighborhood. Her relentless pursuit of a better way forward has kept the issue alive for years. No other person has brought the same mixture of persistence, people skills, strategic thinking, and righteous indignation to the cause. A Board Member with the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Sandra illustrates the New Orleans phenomenon of "preservationist as all-around good government watchdog" to a tee. Her work on making the RMJM Hillier/FHL report on adaptive reuse of Charity also provided the key point of argument about a true alternative to the destructive plan that has since extinguished a neighborhood.

Brad V: Very briefly, what got you involved in the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA fight at the beginning?

Sandra S: I got involved when our organization, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, was charged by the Legislature with conducting a feasibility study on reusing Charity Hospital.

It was a unanimous vote of the Legislature. I was naive back then and believed that they really wanted this study to reuse Charity. Little did I was a done deal - and they never really wanted it at all.

Brad V: What really got you involved? What made you decide to take up this challenge to the extent that you have?

Sandra S: Up until now, I believed in justice. I believed in fairness and the goodness of people. And, the more I heard the stories of the doctors, the military cleanup, these military men who came in and did what they were supposed to do. They said this was the least damaged place. It would have been cherished in any other country. But in Louisiana, they shuttered it and left it for naught.

I mean, it was cleaned up and ready to go. Ready to receive patients. And through this hoax, they've shut it all down. And left people without healthcare for, now, six years.

Brad V: So, at this point, we're looking at a largely destroyed site here at the UMC. And behind us, the VA site has been almost entirely cleared. What are your thoughts about this whole affair at this point in time?

Sandra S: I still can't believe it's gotten to this point. It still brings me to tears to be out here. I can't believe people have lost their homes and their community. People have lost their lives without healthcare. We're killing off downtown New Orleans. We've killed off a neighborhood. And we still don't have the money to rebuild. It's just injustice at every level. And it's about a bad plan that some people came up with and pushed through at all costs, no matter what the logic, no matter what the reasoning.

And for me, it's also a loss of innocence. I did believe in justice. I did believe that the right thing - and common sense - would prevail. And it hasn't. It's just insane.

It's the idea that you had all these building downtown that you haven't reused. You could've had the jobs back. You could've had the buildings reused. You could've had the vital resources of New Orleans intact.

The you come into a neighborhood and you take down all the houses. You've destroyed the community - and taken that resource away. You've taken healthcare away, you've taken the teaching hospital away. This all could have been stopped. This all could have been fixed. We could have had a hospital in three years - a hospital open now.

Instead, we have a destroyed landscape. We've moved people out of houses rebuilt with federal money. We don't have the jobs, we don't have the healthcare, the teaching hospital. And they don't even have the money to build the hospital.

It's insane.

A different kind of portrait

I wouldn't classify Alex Glustrom as one of the Stalwarts.  His role in the Footprint and the Charity Hospital controversy has been one of documentation rather than advocacy.  But he deserves mention because he has been onhand, for years now, at many of the crucial moments, video camera in hand.

Brad V:  How did you get involved in covering the LSU/VA/Charity controversy?

Alex G:  I first got involved when I was in college at Tulane University.  I've always loved film and documentaries.  I wanted to make a documentary, and my first documentary idea was to make an overarching film about all of the changes in post-Katrina New Orleans.  It was going to be about the changes in the schools, the public houses, the healthcare.  And I just thought I could make this overarching documentary - that would have been 10 hours long - to even begin to cover these issues.  

I was filming at a United Nations fact-finding mission on adequate housing, and they were going all over the city talking with former public housing residents, current public housing residents - and talking with current homeowners, lessees, and business owners in the footprints of the hospitals.  It was basically a mission on people being forced out of their homes.

That's when the people from Save Charity Hospital (Jonah Evans and Eli Ackerman) made a presentation to the United Nation officials.  And I listened to the presentation, and I got to know some of the people involved.  So I began to film some of the stuff they were doing, their efforts to reopen Charity Hospital and save the neighborhood.  I tried to include Charity Hospital and the neighborhood into the documentary.  But then, as time went on, I realized I needed to re-focus the documentary.  It would have been too long.

So, I started focusing on Charity Hospital and on the neighborhood.  There was a lot of misinformation out there - on both sides - about what was going on, the hospital, the homeowners.  For me, doing my research -and I did a lot of research - it seemed difficult for me to come to the truth.  So, I felt that making a documentary that put the facts out there was key.  I really wanted to show both sides.  I didn't want to push an opinion or sway the facts.  So, I've been trying to interview both sides.

I've been trying to make a documentary that just puts the facts out there.  That shows the potential for the hospital - but also what was sacrificed to get to it, the process that it took to get to this point, the setbacks, the sacrifices.  And really, just an accurate depiction of what's happened over the past six years.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Jacques Morial

*Photo courtesy of Ms. Sandra Stokes

For years, Jacques Morial has been a key figure pointing out the financial and healthcare-related flaws in the plans for replacing Charity Hospital and the existing VA Hospital building.

Whether it was observing and analyzing the machinations of the UMC Board, reading the legislative tea leaves, taking arguments to the airwaves, or speaking at rallies about the issues that mattered, he was there and in the mix, a crucial part of the effort.

Portraits of the Stalwarts: The Anonymous

Many individuals, due to their positions within various institutions, due to various threats or coercion, were unable to advocate publicly for a better way in the LSU/VA/Charity affair.

Nevertheless, numerous anonymous individuals made great contributions - some of them for years - to the fight.  They know who they are.  Many of them are still at it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

From Above

Annihilate, verb \ə-ˈnī-ə-ˌlāt\

"to cause to cease to exist"

A helicopter flight reveals the tragic scene in New Orleans, where hundreds of structures - and hundreds of people, along with dozens of businesses - have been carved out of the cityscape.

In the first photo, the wreckage of the recently occupied Blood Center facility lies strewn in the upper left corner of the shot.  Nine houses sit in a staging area for theoretical moves off the site.  McDonogh No. 11 School, too, remains.  Four additional houses, near the bottom of the shot, are to be moved off, also in theory, at some future date.  Note, too, that the high voltage power line still crosses the site and one lonely tree is cordoned off with orange fencing.

The second photo shows the former Grand Palace Hotel and the large existing parking structure behind it.  They are scheduled to be demolished in about November.

The final photo shows the full extent of the loss in both the VA and UMC footprints - the vast, unnecessary emptiness.

*All photos in this post courtesy of Ms. Sandra Stokes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Janet Hayes

Ms. Janet has been a tireless, self-sacrificing part of the effort to engage the community on the Charity Hospital issue, then the LSU/VA issue, and most recently - you may have seen her, a door-to-door Paul Revere on foot - the encroachment of BioDistrict New Orleans.

Brad V:  What got you involved with the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA issue?

Janet H:  When my friend Kane Masaile died because Charity Hospital was closed and she had to go to Tulane Hospital and ended up in OPP in five point restraints in their psychiatric unit...a friend of mine emailed me to tell me that there was a meeting going on about Charity Hospital - and had it been open, Kane probably would have been alive.  And it was probably something I'd be interested in.

So I went to the first meeting at CC's on Esplanade.  Derrick Morrison and Brad Ott were chairing the meeting. Jacques Morial was there and a few other people.  And it was my first taste of New Orleans injustice as far as it goes with healthcare issues.  And that's what got me involved.  From there it was just natural for me to stay involved.

Brad V:  And what do you think, at this stage in the game, about the LSU/VA project, specifically the impact on the neighborhoods?

Janet H:  I think it's a horrible injustice that's been done to people, to residents that live in New Orleans - that came back to rebuild the city, to rebuild their houses.  They used Road Home money and then had a moratorium imposed on them where they couldn't rebuild.  And there are a number of different scandals going on - that I see as landgrabs by politicians and real estate developers who have only money and power to gain - as opposed to the residents who are lacking in healthcare, who don't have the power to fight these people with all the resources.

Brad V:  What do you think is the overall lesson that you want people to take away from this whole thing?

Janet H:  BE VIGILANT.  Stay alert.  Pay attention to flyers (laughing)- when someone comes to your door with a flyer, read it.  Because generally, they're not doing it for nothing, they're doing it because they want you to know something.  Either it's going to be people that are fighting for you or it's going to be people that are fighting against you.  So pay attention to flyers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: K. Brad Ott


Brad Ott has been involved in the healthcare arena in Louisiana for years.  He has long known of the "centrality and cachet of Charity Hospital" in the Louisiana health system.  After Hurricane Katrina, he went around to field hospitals set up in tents and other locations in New Orleans - even as Charity was closed by the state - and ended up heading to testify in Baton Rouge.

Brad V:  As one of the leaders of the Committee to Reopen Charity, how did you get involved with the Charity Hospital fight?

Brad O:  Charity Hospital saved my life.  I was a patient at Charity.  I got involved because we needed the healthcare; people have died because Charity Hospital was closed.  It was closed even though Interim (University) was more damaged.  It was closed despite a case that I found that says legislative approval is needed before a hospital can be closed.

Brad V:  Where do things stand today, from your perspective?

Brad O:  There needs to be an investigation if all original services offered at Charity are not restored in the UMC.  It'll be ten frickin' years before we have full healthcare restored because the Charity option was dismissed.  Governor Jindal is not telling anyone, but 6-7 charity hospitals around the state will be on the chopping block - threatened with closure because of the LSU/VA project.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Bill Borah

Brad V: Briefly, back when you first decided to get involved in this particular fight (Charity Hospital/LSU/VA), what got you involved in the issue?

Bill B: Well, I was a latecomer to the hospital controversy. After Katrina, I and others were very much involved in trying to change the City Charter so the city would be required to do a plan for its future physical development - called the Master Plan - that would have the force of law (meaning citizen-based, everyone would have to follow it). And what happened, unfortunately, was that Mayor Nagin and his recovery czar, Ed Blakely, told Goody Clancey, the firm that was to do the Master Plan, that they were not permitted to study the hospital situation. So here we had the biggest economic health decision that this city will make in the next 10 or 15 years...excluded from the Master Plan planning process.

It was the way that New Orleans and Louisiana traditionally planned - top down, ad hoc, and ultimately corrupt. And that's how I happened to get involved. Because I was outraged by the fact that the LSU and VA hospitals were excluded planning process.

And, of course, when I got in it and saw how terrible it was - the fact that they were wiping out 165 historic buildings and destroying a New Orleans neighborhood that had every possibility of coming back and being viable - and that could satisfy the residential and commercial needs that two new hospitals would have. And they would not consider adaptively reusing Charity Hospital.

That's how I got involved. And then of course I read FHL's (Sandra Stokes) report and was incredibly impressed by it, done by an extraordinary architecture firm with a health/preservation background. It said that you could re-do Charity, get back in it 3 years faster, 34% cheaper. That's why I'm here.

Brad V: And what do you think about the entire LSU/VA situation at this point, seeing as things have changed significantly since you got involved?

Bill B: I'm incredibly depressed by it. I think it's an absolutely outrageous decision by the city, the state, and, of course, the federal government. It's urban renewal in its worst sense. It's from back in the 50s and 60s. It's the kind of thing that this country said it was getting away from. And, quite frankly, that this administration - namely, the Obama administration - said they were moving away from. Quite the contrary. It's an absolute disaster. Now, of course, people are trying to make the best of it. It's a very sad time.

I got involved in the Riverfront Expressway back in the 60s. We were trying to stop the interstate highway going through the French Quarter. We were successful. But in terms of decision-making and the ad hoc, dysfunctional system that I grew up continues to this day. And all the hopes and dreams we had after Katrina...there were some things done that were positive...but the city and state, looks like it's reverting to the way it was before Katrina. And of course the federal government is cooperating with the local politicians...and you know, we're at war. As we've always been, if you believe in historic preservation and decent planning and trying to preserve the unique character of the city. And at the same time, God knows, it really needed development. Everyone supports the hospitals. But, God, this is not the way you do this stuff.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Martha Owen

Brad V: How did you get involved in the Charity Hospital fight?

Martha O: It was one of my customers. An LSU representative had come on her property and flung his finger in her face and said "You're going to have to move." And I had no idea that that was the way the business was going to be conducted. I mean, the only way that I would describe it is: disgraceful. It was outrageous. Now it's outrageous and disgraceful.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Derrick Morrison

Brad V:  Originally, how did you come to be involved in the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA fight?

Derrick M:  I got involved because I felt that it would be easier to get Charity open after Katrina than some of the other struggles going on - because it had been cleaned out, because it had basically been readied for operation, and because of the fact that, initially, the City Council and the state legislature were asking that Charity were asking for it to be re-opened on a temporary basis.  So it seemed like it would be easy to get Charity re-opened.  But as it turns out, it was not that easy.  It's gonna take...a lot more effort to get Charity re-opened.

Brad V:  At this point - I know you've been very active in the neighborhood and in the adjoining neighborhood - what do you think of the state of affairs of the LSU/VA project today?

Derrick M:  Well the LSU/VA project, right now, basically...the campaign right now is for justice for the people who were given unfair property appraisals by the LSU Board of Supervisors - to get LSU to fork over some more money for them.  Also, to get the VA to do right by the adjacent neighborhood - Cleveland Avenue, Palmyra Street.  Also, the effort to save McDonogh No. 11 School is uppermost in my mind.  It's clear that LSU doesn't know how big this project is going to be.  The whole effort now should be to save the school in light of the fact that LSU's plans are probably going to be changed.  And even if they aren't changed, LSU is still only using half the area - so the school should be saved.  The big thing now is to force LSU to redesign its design to save McDonogh No. 11 School.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Mary Howell

Mary Howell, whose law office stands just a block outside the VA Footprint, was the chief figure who led to my involvement in the LSU/VA issue, drawing me into the broader effort several months after I began this blog.

Mary, who came to know the residents of the VA Footprint especially well after the storm, gave up a great deal of her time, effort, and more to stand up against the "bullying" that was so deeply interwoven into the push to destroy the VA Footprint neighborhood.  She was also the prime mover on the effort to save the VA houses from demolition.  Regardless of how the effort turned out due to other actors, it cannot be denied that 79 structures were ultimately relocated, avoiding total demolition and marking a sudden, major change in events in the hospitals saga.  Mary was also a major presence at many of the VA neighborhood meetings, a relentless advocate for the residents being negatively affected by the project.

BV:  What, originally, got you involved in the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA fight?

MH:   I went to a neighborhood meeting, and I walked into that meeting.  It was held in this sort of gutted out building in the neighborhood.  And I looked around the room.  And it was filled with predominantly African American, working people, but it was a really diverse group of people.  Homeowners, people who struggled to come back, people who struggled to rebuild their homes, people who had formed a really deep community and fellowship - actually unlike anything that existed before the storm.  The storm really brought this neighborhood together in a powerful, transformative way. 

As I was listening to what was being said about what was getting ready to happen here...I realized they were all going to be annihilated.  And that people just really didn't understand what was about to happen.  The bulldozers were literally coming through.  All these promises were being made about "what a nice process this is going to be" and "how fairly everyone was going to be treated" and I looked around.  Many of the people in the room were older - there was a mix of people, including several newcomers - but I looked around at the longtimers who had been here and really struggled hard to come back.  A number of them were tired, they were elderly.  And I thought, "Oh my god."  This is like the kiss of death.  They're not just losing their homes, their losing their neighborhood, their community, their safety net, their network - everything.  

I've often said, if I could have just sneaked out of there - and pretended that I hadn't seen this, hadn't realized what was happening here - it would have been a relief.  Because I went down a major rabbit hole for about three years.  I was rebuilding and trying to come back at the same time.

It was awful, what happened here.  It was as ugly...a bullying kind of power I've ever seen.  And it remains that way.

BV:  What do you think of the current state of affairs of the LSU/VA project?

MH:  Oh, it's ridiculous.  It's terrible.  I can count on my hands, my fingers, the number of deaths that I believe are a direct result of the closing of Charity Hospital.  And the financial waste of all of this is extraordinary.  It's mind-boggling, especially given this economy.  But the callous disregard of people's need for quality healthcare and particularly in the mental health area...shutting down that third floor of Charity Hospital.  We've had terrible misfortune, a number of deaths as a direct result of that.  

The terrible thing about it is that many of the people advocating for this have been doing it under the guise of bringing better healthcare to this city.  It's the idea that we'll burn down the village to save the village.  They've completely destroyed a community, they've destroyed lives.  

You know, the Hippocratic Oath...that first line: First, do no harm - ?  Massive harm has been done here in the name of promoting good healthcare.  And it's a lie.  This has never been about healthcare and the needs of the community, about what's right or just.  It's always been about greed, about money, about power.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

And so it goes

The done deal gets done.

Stalwarts: Portraits of the Good Guys

Later today or tomorrow, I'll be launching a series of posts here at Inside the Footprint.

The series, built on photos and quotes, focuses on the individuals who've lead the effort to engage, oppose, and critique the LSU/VA hospitals project - and who've long called for the retrofit of the existing Charity Hospital as a far less damaging alternative. 

Each person in the series has given up a great deal of time, energy, and resources in persistent pursuit of what they believe is right.  They deserve some recognition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

Magical: Debt disappears, annual state subsidies shrink, and hundreds of Medicare patients appear

+ The UMC business plan presented yesterday by Verite

+ Times-Picayune piece that notes, rather tellingly:

"When the University Medical Center governing board committed earlier this summer to hiring two consulting firms to craft a new business plan for a Charity Hospital successor, Gov. Bobby Jindal hailed the move and encouraged the board not to chain itself to the model long sought by the Louisiana State University System. UMC Board Chairman Bobby Yarborough, a Jindal appointee, said "all options" would be on the table.

When Verite Healthcare Consulting, aided by Kaufman, Hall & Associates,presents its recommendations today at a 1 p.m. meeting of the UMC board, analysts will advocate a facility of essentially the same size and scope as has been on the table for several years."

+ Not everyone bought it:

Janet Hayes of New Orleans accused the board of adopting a "damn-the-consequences attitude."
"This meeting is rigged and predetermined," said Brad Ott, of the Save Charity Hospital organization.

+ No really, not everyone bought what the UMC Board was selling:

"A business plan that has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese and if you're willing to face the public and face the pages of history go on and approve this plan,” said Resident Jacques Morial who has questioned the project for years.

In the end the board approved the new business plan, even as opponents maintain Charity Hospital can be renovated of its Katrina damage.


"It's absolutely criminal. It could have been faster, cheaper,” stated Stokes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

From the plan presented today at the UMC Board meeting

There's some blah blah blah in the report from Verite...

"Reuse of the Charity Hospital facility. The UMCMC Board is not responsible for and has no authority over the disposition of Charity Hospital. The state Office of Facility Planning and Control has responsibility for administration of design and construction for capital projects for the State of Louisiana. That office has considered alternatives and options for the project. With expected federal funding, options were required to be considered as part of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), 16 U.S. C. Section 4701, and 36 CFR Part 800 (section 106). Options were considered under the “Programmatic Agreement among the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the City of New Orleans, the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Officer, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Regarding the Funding to Repair or Replace Healthcare Facilities Comprising the VA Medical Center and the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans.” That Agreement specified project alternatives for the repair or replacement of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans."

The UMC Board, if it was doing its job and being responsible to the people of Louisiana, most certainly would have looked at the Charity option because of the significant time and cost savings involved in that option.

And then there's some interesting items to note in the excerpt:

"The options were carefully weighed by the federal government and the state. Multiple public meetings were held. The result of the process yielded a determination that the most appropriate option was the relocation to a new site with the construction of new facilities. Revisiting other options may render the entire process null, requiring further analysis to comply with Section 106.

Whether or not reusing Charity Hospital is in the UMCMC Board’s purview, the Board has concluded that building a new University Medical Center is by far the preferred alternative."

The options were weighed carefully?  No - the state/LSU simply decided it wanted a new hospital and shuttered a barely damaged hospital building.  The VA has been using several portions of the VA building that was supposedly beyond hope.

Multiple public meetings were, functionally, not held.  Only one public meeting actually occurred - the state's own records show that no members of the public showed up at the ostensible second and third public meetings because the state and Jacobs changed the means of notifying consulting parties and did not do anything resembling adequate outreach and notification.

Also, the process "yielded a determination" that a new hospital was necessary?  In every aspect of the process where the public did manage to wiggle in, it expressed in no uncertain terms that it wanted Charity Hospital reused.  The overwhelming majority of public comment and consulting party comment pushed for that option.  So it's entirely absurd to say that the process "yielded a determination" to the contrary.  The passive and evasive language employed in the excerpt is a good sign that the state is obfuscating.

Finally, what "other options" would render the entire process null?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More questions than answers

The never-ending UMC financing saga continues.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Uh oh...River Birch crops up again

Now, the feds are zooming in on a key media figure here in New Orleans...with monetary connections to the landfill.

You'll recall that I've already pointed out that at least some of the contaminated soil/underground tanks from the VA Footprint went to River Birch.

Here's the broad question that must be asked and answered: Where did all of the many tons of debris from the VA and LSU site demolitions end up?  Who got paid to take all of that debris that would not have been generated if Charity and the existing VA hospital had been retrofitted instead?

UMC Board Meeting - September 8, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Where is all that fill coming from?

I mentioned a bit about the massive amount of surcharging fill that will be used in the VA Footprint.

But what about the truckloads of fill that was coming into the LSU Footprint today? Where is it coming from?  And, more importantly, who's getting paid to provide all that fill...that wouldn't have been needed if Charity had been retrofitted to house the UMC?

"537 historic artifacts...included a number of artifacts dated to the French and Spanish colonial periods (ca. 1720-1780)"

After another public records request, we've begun to sift through the archaeological reports that continue to be generated in the VA and LSU footprints.  While several individuals requested the archaeological reports for months at the VA neighborhood meetings, it wasn't until now that we've been able to access them.

The quote in the title comes from the "Management Summary" for the VA Footprint, and it pertains specifically to the plot of land that was once 219 S. Miro - the site that hosted the S.W. Green Mansion.

If you zoom in on the photo above, you'll see, out on the prairie that has replaced the former neighborhood in the VA Footprint, a number of dig sites in "Block 551" - the area that contains the 219 S. Miro archaeological deposits.

There are all kinds of interesting things in the archaeological reports.  And I'm going to do my best to post portions of them here before the VA site gets "surcharged" with about 7 feet of fill...and as the UMC site gets torn apart.  One word that shows up frequently in the latest VAMC archaeological diggings (from a report issued in July 2011)..."bone":

The UMC site records, as of as recent as August, show numerous references to "faunal remains."

"What are they afraid of - that Charity was right all along?"

Sign here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Exclusive: A cursory look at the Dixie Brewery structural assessment

Here, thanks in part to the kindness of a number of people, is a brief look at the VA-commissioned structural assessment of the Dixie Brewery complex in the VA Footprint.

Obtained by public records request (after multiple direct requests meetings), the assessment contains an executive summary that continues to make it unclear just what parts of the complex will be retained and what will be demolished.

The work commissioned focuses largely on a portion of the original, red brick 1907 portion of the building - the structure that rises to a height of six stories with a dome along Tulane Avenue - but also cascades down multiple levels to what used to be Banks Street in the back.

This diagram and several others makes it clear that VA really only seems to envision utilizing a very limited portion of even the 1907 building in its adaptive reuse - it cuts off the back of the original part of the brewery after the first step down of the wedding cake, so to speak, along what used to be S. Tonti (right side of picture...the third and fourth "steps" down of the building are not shown...or really investigated, it seems, with much seriousness):

Note below, too, that only a limited portion of the original 1907 building is shown in many of the specific studies done by various expert consultants.  It doesn't look like VA even intends to use the bulk of the original building that extends above the carriageway (about four stories) - other than the facade wall along Tulane and where it curves back in a bit (left of picture below):

Still, a portion of the draft document report shows that the report authors acknowledge that "in fact, demolition and abatement costs are less than they would otherwise be because portion of Dixie are being salvaged and not demolished."

And the report then specifically gives a bit of hope about the potential to adaptively reuse more portions of the  four-story section along Tulane Avenue: "further savings can be gained if testing of the structure behind the western portion of the Tulane facade can be conducted and validates that portions of this structure can be retained."

Still, this draft document is where we begin to see that the two renderings from April 2010 showing Dixie incorporated into the VAMC research facility...really show us, by and large, all there is to know.  It seems that nothing beyond what's visible of the existing Dixie structure in this rendering shot and this rendering shot will be saved or utilized as VA sees it - not the adjoining, long white, wooden bottling building built along Tulane Avenue in 1919 and designed by architect Emile Weil.  There is, tellingly, no rendering showing the facility from a mid-point, at, say, Tulane and S. Tonti (*I will note that one recommendation in the document calls for either hardening the Tulane Avenue walls internally to make them blast proof...or to permanently take the parking lane along Tulane).

The language about demolition in the executive summary is rather muddled and evasive:

The presence of lead, asbestos, and mold in the site is no surprise given its age, purpose, and openness to the elements since Hurricane Katrina.

The troubling thing about the executive summary is this section:

It's great to see that the VA genuinely appears to be committed to reusing portions of Dixie Brewery in its research facility.  Importantly, the report notes that various consultants involved in the assessment are designing emergency measures to deal with significant deterioration of some of the bays along the former S. Tonti facade (brick and mortar deterioration that has long been visible to any passerby).  That's good to see.

However, it's not good to see the "other additions" simply written off...largely, it seems, because VA only wants to use the six-story tower portion of the 1907 building.

My recommendations to SHPO - and to anyone else who cares - after my first initial skim of the document:

1.  Push for retention of greater portions of the original 1907 building.  For example, push to retain the full extent of the "wedding cake" steps down the former S. Tonti Street facade - even if it is just the brick facade for the third and fourth steps down.  Push for retention of the full four-story part of the original 1907 structure that is lakeside of the carriageway, not just the facade.

2.  See if the Tulane Avenue facade of the white, 1919 portion of the building can be retained - keep the awning, the loading docks, the sign, etc.  Despite the dismissive language in the report, a modern facility could rise up behind this facade, but it would, even if modified for more entry points, provide a character-filled face for a greater portion of the Tulane Avenue facade.  In the long run, put trees and cafe tables outside between the awning/facade and the street.

3.  Examine the retention of the brick portions the 1934 portions of the complex at S. Rocheblave and the former Banks Street intersection.  If the bulk of the new research facility can simply rise up out of the center of the block, keep as much of the external corner faces that give historic character as possible.

There will likely be more to say and share as we dig into the draft document.  Let us know what parts of Dixie Brewery are important to you in the comments.

Say farewell to Schadler

The modernist "Miracle Mile" building, known as the Schadler Building, that housed Southern Electronics began to fall along Tulane Avenue today in the LSU Footprint.

What will take its place?  Either a second parking garage - that may or may not get built, as I've outlined (and if it is built, it would ironic seeing as an existing parking structure in the site is still seemingly slated to be imploded along with the old Grand Palace Hotel in about November).  If not a parking garage, the original plan called for surface parking.  Or it might be lovely greenspace, aka nothing.


Voila - suddenly, Governor Jindal announces, via admirer Eric Paulsen, that the UMC can be built for $300 million less - without sacrificing "size or features."

After insisting on a $1.2 billion UMC project for years, the Governor pulls a $900 million rabbit out of the hat...and says it's the same thing.

Paulsen's piece can only be described as the work of a mouthpiece.  Note how he actively tries to weave in an assertion that there will still be shared services between VA and UMC (which has been deflated in the Times-Picayune) and he obtains exactly zero comment from anyone concerned about or opposed to the UMC as planned.

Rest assured, this isn't over yet.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ghosts of the Footprint

Recently, I went to hear a friend's band at Banks Street Bar, back behind Jesuit in Mid-City.

As I walked into the dim ramshackle establishment that I evening, I felt, in a strange way, like I was back in the VA Footprint in Outer Banks Bar.

There, standing next to a pole, was James, the loyal Outer Banks patron, the wall boards leaning behind him.

Across the way, seated at a table near the neon glow by the door was another Outer Banks regular-in-exile, Bryan.  He sat there with his hat, white pants, shades, and grin looking like Burma Jones exiled from the Night of Joy.

Still, it wasn't quite the same.

Down what was left of Banks Street, down a ways under the dark of the remaining oak boughs, a great expanse of dirt stretched out under the night sky.

Inside "The Trapezoid"

The proposed sites of the UMC and VAMC hospitals (LSU Footprint and VA Footprint, respectively) both fall within an area of New Orleans that I've called The Footprint.  

Those who've been following the blog know that The Footprint falls within a much larger footprint - the 1,500-acre site of BioDistrict New Orleans.

The Footprint also falls within a giant, roughly trapezoidal shape that HANO and HRI are calling the Iberville-Treme (I don't think it will stick - the areas involved are too disparate).  Today, HANO/HRI received a $30.5 million grant from the federal government (HUD) for a variety of activities within that trapezoid, including the demolition of about 2/3 of the existing buildings in the Iberville Projects campus.

Even though the plan calls for renovations of some major historic buildings in the area - such as the Mondy and Augustine schools, I'm concerned that the federal government, as it did with LSU/VA, continues to fund grandiose projects (with dollars that the federal government doesn't have) that create additional waves of uncertainty that ripple out through an already weary community that is just trying to figure out which giant new footprint it happens to fall within on any given day.

At the very least, the project features less of an emphasis on full-scale, old-style urban renewal.  But it deserves full attention, as some neighborhood groups, like one in historic Treme, did not even know a few weeks ago about the specific, dense, infill developments proposed for within its boundaries.

"I can't control a state hospital"

Outgoing Council Member Fielkow stated that just now on WBOK radio this afternoon as he talked about the Council's influence over where various government dollars go.

Unfortunately, I don't think that's entirely accurate.

Looking back, Fielkow, as a City Council member, was involved at the very beginning in permitting the LSU/VA project to move forward.  For example, he was involved in the March 2007 Regional Planning Commission resolution pushing for a "downtown" VA site - which an April 2007 CEA between the City and State revealed to be...the RPC site above S. Galvez.  The CEA also laid out the current site of the UMC.

He also voted in support of the December 2007 ordinance that established a moratorium in the LSU/VA footprints, banning people from even repairing their homes and functionally establishing a blanket of planner's blight over the site that depressed property values as expropriation was getting underway.

Fielkow also voted for the revocation of the streets in both the VA and UMC footprints.

So, council members did have several opportunities to control the state hospital (and the federal hospital)'s just that they didn't choose to control the hospital - or the funding involved.

"No members of the public attended"

Here are the official summaries from the 2nd and 3rd "public" meetings on adaptive reuse of Charity Hospital, held this spring:

March 16, 2011

March 30, 2011

As I said some time ago, nobody attended because nobody knew about the meetings - and neither the state nor its contractor emailed notice to consulting parties (the method by which the first public meeting was announced) despite having all the email addresses.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Suspended in a haze of smoke

Fires burning off in the east cast a sickly shadow over the site of the proposed UMC today. Charity Hospital, still vacant, was barely visible off in the distance through the smoke.  As a friend agreed this morning, the acrid lungfuls are appropo for New Orleans - there's always a tinge of the apocalypse in the air.

The churned remnants of S. Johnson Street sat in the heat.

Dust from equipment on the site added to the thick air.

At the old Grand Palace Hotel, workers had the wooden cover off the entry to the former parking structure.

The sooty air lingered in the French Quarter.

It hung like a pall over the tombs of St. Louis #2 Cemetery, visible below the elevated expressway that may yet disappear.  The roofs of the Iberville Projects are visible as well - many of the buildings will soon be demolished under a redevelopment proposal put forward by HANO and Pres Kabacoff's HRI, likely under a federally funded "Choice Neighborhoods Grant."

Remember the mystery walker?

Well, she has a few videos up from her walk.

Like this one - a typical visit with a resident of BioDistrict New Orleans who knows nothing about the existence of the BioDistrict, much less the planning process that started last fall:

*Sumbitted video.

Why are neighborhoods even included in the boundaries of the BioDistrict - which is charged with developing biosciences infrastructure?  My hypothesis is that the district, despite contentions that it wants to improve neighborhoods like Mid-City (which is not its legislatively assigned mandate), needs a tax base to tap into down the road.

A good prescription.

Dr. John says: Study ALL the hospital options...

And follow the Doctor's orders.

Video of David Simon's Keynote Address at Rising Tide

David Simon - Keynote Speaker, Rising Tide VI from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Palmyra Street, Six Years After Katrina

To paraphrase Tacitus:

To usurp under false titles without funds, they call progress; and where they make a desert, they call it development.

Today, instead of a functioning University Medical Center humming along in the sturdy shell of the former Charity Hospital building, there still isn't even a business plan for the UMC proposed for Lower Mid-City.  Nor is there adequate financing in place to build the first phase of the hospital.

There is, however, a largely destroyed swath of the city standing increasingly vacant between Canal, Tulane, S. Galvez, and Claiborne.

If the State of Louisiana, LSU, UMC, City of New Orleans and various federal agencies had pursued the retrofit of Charity three years ago, we could have had a state-of-the-art hospital in place today - and it would have been less expensive (the state has the money onhand to realize the Charity option at present).

Instead, there are no signs that the UMC Board has even considered the Charity option, and is instead bulling forward with the disastrous Lower Mid-City site out of embarrassment.  

Not long for this world (and more on the origins of the done deal)

Some 2008 chatter about the fate of the giant old Grand Palace/Delta Towers hotel building, located in the LSU Footprint, dredges up this old image from 2008:

Ah, if only.  Note that the truly "joint" site pitched to the news media at the time did not extend above S. Galvez Street.  One must question whether anyone involved with the project actually thought that the layout pictured above would be pursued when the image appeared in the press in 2008.

In the spring of 2007, all sorts of regional leaders were ready to sacrifice the neighborhood in what we now know as the VA Footprint - and were making official pronouncements and legal agreements in furtherance of construction on that site.  The Regional Planning Commission passed a resolution about a downtown VA hospital on March 13, 2007 - although it did not specifically mention the "RPC" site.  An April 30 Cooperative Endeavor Agreement entered into by the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana's Division of Administration, however, did specify the current VA site, the one that goes all the way to S. Rocheblave Street:

The City, State, and RPC essentially ensured that the jump across S. Galvez would occur.  The "RPC" site, the current VA Footprint, was the only site that they all pushed via various agreements and arrangements for more than a year before the actual "official" site selection from a list of three ostensible options was made by VA.

Given that the City employed over $70 million in CDBG funds for site preparation...and the state had the LSU Board of Supervisors employ its quick take expropriation power to acquire many of the properties...that mattered a great deal.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Times-Pic highlights David Simon's skepticism about LSU/VA, BioDistrict...but conveniently skims over his harsh comments about the Mayor


Readers of Inside the Footprint will already be familiar with the Baltimore example that Simon cited and the Times-Pic references in the article, specifically one Baltimore paper's in-depth report that includes the line:

"The nation's largest urban redevelopment, a projected $1.8 billion effort to transform 88 acres of East Baltimore into a world-class biotech park and idyllic urban community, lies derailed amid vacant lots, boarded houses and unfulfilled dreams a decade after it began,"

A Letter about the BioDistrict

...appeared in today's Times-Picayune from Lili, who lives in Mid-City.

Note the first comment, which points out that key points have been carved out of the version that was actually published.

More on David Simon on the Mayor, demolition, and the folly of LSU/VA

Here, in a somewhat pointillist splatter, are some Twitter perspectives and quotes from David Simon's keynote address at the Rising Tide 6 Conference today at Xavier.

I was in the crowd, and it was incredible to hear Simon say some things that needed to be said - both about the LSU/VA project and the scuffle over the "Treme" row of houses on Derbigny Street.  While I disagreed with some of his lump comments about "preservationists" as it related to the Derbigny houses, I think he had some incendiary and eye-opening things to say:

David Simon winning back the audience with some Ad Hominem on city hall/Biomedical district. #RT6

David Simon: "I've got news for you - LSU is NOT the premier medical institution in the South" #Rt6 (But tops in bar fights!)

Now David Simon forecasting doom for LSU/VA project based on John Hopkins' tear downs in East Baltimore #Rt6

Wait. Did Simon actually accuse the Mayor of "a shakedown" to his face? Or was he relating to us his internal monologue #rt6

The Lens
“@cohenlensnola: #davidsimon is really, really not a fan of the LSU-VA medical center plan.” #RT6

David Eidler
Simon relates Baltimore John Hopkins fiasco to LSU downtown project #rt6

David Simon at Rising Tide talking about the call from @MayorLandrieu re demolitions - "He went batshit" #Rt6

Charles Maldonado
Simon: "He told me that they were doing this and doing that and did I know what a great mayor he was." #rt6

uǝןɐʞ (@lunanola)

#rt6 David Simon re: the demolition of blighted property debacle: "Your new mayor -- the new guy who was better than the last guy -- at the moment when the cameras were on him, he'd have thrown anybody under a bus."

I'd love to be in the room when Landrieu sees this David Simon video. #rt6

Proposal: New Orleans and Baltimore form a dirt field sisterhood. #RT6

Simon deconstructing the fallacy that is holding up Baltimore's (non) development of East Baltimore as an example for cities to emulate #rt6

Inside the Footprint did not ultimately win the Ashley award, but did receive some kind words of honorary mention from Mark Moseley up on the dais.

David Simon at Rising Tide

He's using the example of Baltimore to savage the idea that the LSU \ VA project will solve New Orleans' problems. He notes pointedly that Baltimore's bioscience demolished 20-acre site remains largely fallow today.

A Telling Blue Scrap


Last Tuesday, this blue sunburst portion of the decorative trim (gingerbread) that once graced the gable of the house at 226 S. Galvez Street lay partially ground into the dirt in the LSU Footprint.

Under the Salvage Agreement in an appendix of the Programmatic Agreement for the hospital project, the following architectural elements were mandated for salvage:

Decorative “gingerbread” trim

Friday, August 26, 2011

Inside the Footprint nominated for Ashley Morris Award

I'm stunned to be considered for the award, given out annually at the Rising Tide Convention, which kicks off this evening.

Here are the two comments that constitute the nominations:

Editor B said...
I can nominate more than once? In that case: Brad V of Inside the Footprint. Relentless coverage of the razing of a neighborhood, asking the questions that need to be asked.
Thursday, August 4, 2011 3:16:00 PM CDT

Robert Morris said...
For "fierce passionate defense of New Orleans," I'd say the Inside the Footprint blog deserves strong consideration. Purely original reporting, delivered in both quantity and quality. I rarely make it inside the footprint myself, but Brad V.'s work takes me there on a daily basis.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 1:53:00 PM CDT

Many thanks.  I remember attending the conference in 2008, and I didn't quite understand some of the sentiments at the time.  After nearly two years of blogging here, though, it all makes total sense.  I've seen plenty.

I will say that each visit to the Footprint does give one an overwhelming desire to say....

"Modular Grid Modern" - and Mid-City Historic District Expansion

Recently, Crescent Growth Capital, the entity that's redeveloping the former Lindy Boggs or Mercy Hospital site near the end of Bayou St. John, proposed an expansion of the period of significance for the Mid-City National Register Historic District.  It also proposed boundary changes.

The period of significance, key for obtaining historic tax credits, is proposed for extension to include the period of 1943-1961 - which would sweep in more Mid-Century Modern buildings, like the LSU Footprint building on Canal Street shown above.  It was pictured in Crescent Growth's Baton Rouge presentation as an example of Modular Grid Modern, one of the styles that would be eligible for the National Register under the expanded concept of the district.  The building, to my knowledge, is still set to be demolished.

The presentation also acknowledged two small reductions in the district due to new infill housing being built by Providence Community Housing, along with "a larger contraction" due to the destruction wrought by the LSU/VA project, which largely fell within the Mid-City District.

In total, the numbers of contributing historic properties in the district have dropped since the last survey years ago, falling from 3,811 structures to 3,567 structures.  In the non-contributing department, there are now 539 structures, down from 678.

The proposed change to the district also seeks to sweep in industrial buildings, such as the brick warehouse and shop buildings along the former Carondelet Canal, now the site of the proposed Lafitte Greenway.

The National Register of Historic Places will ultimately have to decide on whether or not it will accept the proposed changes.

A Letter from the Advisory Council

The Lens unearths a letter sent from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to the City of New Orleans regarding the treatment of the moved VA houses.

As someone who's been both a long-time supporter of the house moving alternative - a majority of the moved houses are secured and re-roofed - and someone's who's concerned about the failure to get the remainder back into some semblance of order...I can say that I have seen the letter and thought about it a bit.

A key problem with the letter is this: the Programmatic Agreement (PA) that the ACHP cites as it chastises the City...doesn't actually address the house moving that the Landrieu administration ultimately pushed for in response to the calls made citizens and preservationists.  That's not meant as an excuse, just a hard look at the text.

The PA only contained stipulations that addressed a much more modest house moving effort that the VA agreed to fund at the outset of the hospital project - and only 3 houses ultimately moved under that program (with owners, with roofs intact).  The 72 additional houses moved as part of the effort that materialized in summer of 2010 (covered extensively on this blog - without owners, without roofs) are not envisioned in the PA.  Thus, for better or for worse, the PA proper, as governing document for effects on historic resources, arguably has nothing to say about the vast bulk of the houses that moved off the site - the City effort that came after demolition had started was and is entirely "extra-PA."

A somewhat better hook - and the one that the ACHP probably should have used in its letter - is a provision in a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office that's constitutes part of an appendix to the PA (below in blue).  In the letter, the SHPO makes it clear that the "Area of Potential Effects" for the project would have to be expanded if any houses moved off site.  In other words, it's likely that more process would have been required to address the potential effects of the moved houses on the historic neighborhoods where many of them landed (and possibly the effects of roof removal, etc. on the moved houses themselves):

To my knowledge, the SHPO understanding  in 3(c) has never been been realized despite the moving of many houses into different locations, as I've mapped here.  I know of no extension or change to the "APE" that would serve to acknowledge that more historic buildings and neighborhoods were being affected by the project.

Finally, the piece in The Lens notes the handful of houses that moved into Historic Treme.  Of all the houses that moved off site, these really are the most incongruent with their new surroundings in terms of historic and architectural context (parts of Hoffman Triangle come close, but the existing neighborhood was not as deeply historic as Treme).  That's why I was fine with the article employing the photo from this blog.

In the end, I remain hopeful that the house moving effort will succeed.  Many of the properties continue to creep forward toward better condition, and I still say that even if only 2/3 of them ultimately come back in commerce with historic character intact, it will be better than the alternative faced in June of 2010 - mass demolition of all 72 houses along with the scores of other structures that were in fact demolished.

Letter to the UMC Board

Martha Owen, a small business owner, staunch advocate for good government, and supporter of the Charity Hospital alternative site for the UMC sent this timely letter to the UMC Board recently.

I share it here with her permission (click on any portion to enlarge):

Note especially the attachments listed - like the inclusion of the over 10,000 petitions delivered to Mayor Landrieu last year calling for the building of a modern hospital inside Charity Hospital according to the RMJM/Hillier study.

The UMC Board is scheduled to meet on September 8.  I wonder if they'll finally have a business plan - now that the LSU Footprint has been almost entirely destroyed.