Monday, May 11, 2009

Big Shiny Parking Lots

Otherwise known as "Phase II"

BATON ROUGE -- Architects recently unveiled renderings for the teaching hospital that Louisiana State University System executives and state facilities managers have envisioned for lower Mid-City since before Hurricane Katrina.

The three concepts vary, but all depict a massive medical complex -- three wings of in-patient beds, a clinic building, a diagnostic and treatment wing with the emergency department, a parking garage and a central energy plant -- that would reach every block in an area bound by South Claiborne Avenue, Tulane Avenue, Galvez Street and Canal Street. But, in fact, fewer than half the structures in the drawings actually make up the proposed $1.2 billion, 424-bed hospital.

Architects dubbed that "phase one" as they presented the drawings. The rest of the buildings -- duplicates of everything except the energy plant -- are designated as "future" construction in "phase two."

And then near the end of the article

State facilities chief Jerry Jones said he doesn't think the land would be used for construction at all before hospital expansion. He said it likely would be "surface parking" and landscaping.

Really, though, it's just the latest in a string of disappointments regarding the Charity Hospital situation which has slowly but surely devolved into one of those typical New Orleans all-sides-at-fault disasters.

LSU had been lobbying for a new facility well before old Charity was damaged by the Federal Flood. Depending on who you ask, it appears that they have sought to use the (disputed) severity of that damage as a pretext... or valid reason for finally moving on those plans. The arguments for or against the need for a new building, for me, continue to be inconclusive. But even if you're willing to concede that the old building is either irreparably damaged or obsolete as LSU claims, it's still hard to find sympathy with the current plan to bulldoze 70 acres of a neighborhood in an historic district and replace it with an urban campus. The more we learn about LSU's plans for this land, the more disgusted many of us are with it.

Meanwhile the controversy has provided a new opportunity for other longtime Charity-related grievances to be aired anew. It is discouraging to see the building animosity toward LSU provide an opening for Tulane to make a grab for more control of Charity's governing board. Although the uptown private institution is not without it's sycophants most of us understand the hazards of allowing them more sway than is absolutely necessary over public facilities in New Orleans.

Cynical bastard that I am, I tend to suspect that the Tulane power play along with a general anti-public hospital sentiment among certain segments of the city's socialite structure are either behind the opposition to LSU's plan... or at least tangential beneficiaries of it. It's an old but typical storyline in this town that sees progress and economic development stymied in the interest of protecting one or another plutocrat's piece of an ever-shrinking pie.

This is not to say that the preservationist "Save Charity Hospital and Lower Mid-City" people are being anything but earnest advocates for the building and the neighborhood. I believe they are on the up and up... and certainly have a point when it comes to the threatened neighborhood. It's just that experience has taught us that preservationism is often a legitimizing side-argument to push an anti-progressive agenda.

The point is, there is a lot going on here... most of it bad. But LSU is not the only... or perhaps not even the worst offender.

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