Monday, July 18, 2011

In the alternative

Should the LSU (UMC) Footprint be entirely cleared in coming months...only to see one of the many obstacles to completion thwart actual construction...the question does arise: well, what do you do with the site?

The state, along with LSU and the UMC Board, as well as the City of New Orleans and various state and federal agencies, has been content to sit back and let the demolition fait accompli play out.  Irresponsible demolition and clearance of the site has been the one thing the project has had going for it.  Governor Jindal refers to it all the time.  The logic is crude and medieval: if we destroy the entire area, they'll have to give us what we want.  Would they rather a vacant site?

At one point not long ago, I would have pushed for adaptive reuse of the many historic structures in the site, along with the construction of various infill developments, in an effort to serve the many workers at surrounding institutions.  But most of the structures in the site have been destroyed.  The city may still end up with a vacant site.  And if it does, what could happen with the site?

My suggestion here side-steps the incredibly thorny issue of how the expropriation lawsuits would play out for the more than 200 parcels involved in the UMC site.  It's a suggestion made with the knowledge that a very complex property problem would have to be dealt with.  But here it is, just in case:

If the UMC is not constructed in the present LSU Footprint, the city, state, and federal government should push the entity now known as BioDistrict New Orleans to reduce its 1,500-acre footprint and concentrate its bioscience facilities and development in the LSU Footprint.  Redirecting dense, vertical, urban development to the site would mean the BioDistrict could be much smaller without minimizing whatever economic impact it might generate.  And it would help to avoid the neighborhood-level inflammation that has continued for over 9 months, including tensions when the BioDistrict and state legislators refused to honor the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization's request to be let out of the district.

The image at the head of the post shows the BioDistrict boundary in blue.  Reducing it down significantly, placing most of it inside the yellow outline that denotes the current UMC site, might be impossible based on various legal hurdles.  But I suggest it as part of the broad picture discussion about how to deal with contingencies that may yet arise.  The suggestion flows from what some of us having been saying for months: the BioDistrict would avoid many problems if it concentrated its development in the vacant swaths of the CBD and Historic Medical District instead of intruding into historic neighborhoods.

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