NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans’ landmark Charity Hospital building has stood vacant since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, and the state should help redevelop it by creating a new tax district, a panel of urban planners said Friday.
Representatives of the nonprofit Urban Land Institute discussed the historic building’s future Friday morning. They included former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, who said he was bewildered that the city’s post-Katrina recovery so far has not included “the most iconic building in New Orleans.”
More than 12 years after Katrina, the 20-story, million-square-foot art deco building has remained empty as various proposals for its redevelopment fizzled. Covering an entire city block, it’s an abandoned limestone behemoth in an area that remains economically moribund despite proximity to the French Quarter, downtown hotels and a new medical district.
That the state opted to build new medical facilities is a sore point with some who wanted the historic 1930s-era hospital reopened, and many decried the medical district’s expansion into New Orleans’ Mid City neighborhood.
There was evidence of lingering ill feelings Friday. A small group distributed flyers outside the meeting, accusing state officials of being secretive about development plans. Inside, panelists noted the deep affection many in the city still hold for the abandoned hospital. They called for creation of a committee that would include all groups that have a stake in the development, including neighborhood representatives.
“I totally agree with the importance of bringing the neighborhood in because we destroyed a neighborhood to build the medical district,” said Jeanne Nathan, of the Creative Alliance of New Orleans. “And so that neighborhood needs to be welcomed back to the process.”
The Urban Land Institute panel suggested forming a “Spirit of Charity” district that would include the building and surrounding areas. Development would be financed in part through “tax increment financing,” a method of using property tax revenue boosted by development to finance the improvements.
They also ran through lists of possible uses, saying issues including financing and local economic factors made some more viable in the immediate future than others.
Converting the building into a hotel was among the least viable uses on their list. They said it could be more quickly suited for retail outlets, museum space, technical research and development, large institutions and workforce housing for people employed in the nearby medical district.
Among the institutions that might consider relocating into the building would be New Orleans city government and some local courts. That idea was abandoned several years ago as not being cost effective, but the panel said it might work if the government offices located part of the building with other parts dedicated to other tenants, including workers in the medical district.
The Urban Land Institute panel was brought in by the LSU Health center in New Orleans and the LSU Real Estate and Facilities Foundation, an arm of the fundraising LSU Foundation.