Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lolis Eric Elie asks: "Is the LSU Medical Center Project A Done Deal?"

Done deal? Many hope not
Monday, January 19, 2009
By Lolis Eric Elie, The Times Picayune

"Is it really a done deal?"

This question is being posed by a coalition of groups who wonder whether the current plans to abandon the Charity and Veterans Administration hospitals are wise or final ones.

Consider the statistics compiled by the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates; the Foundation for Historical Louisiana; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

If the ruinous plan goes forward in its current state, more than 70 acres of Mid-City will be demolished and more than 1 million square feet of downtown office buildings will be left abandoned.

Much of downtown New Orleans will be set firmly on the path to blight, and a large area of Mid-City will become parking lots.

--- Do the math ---

State and local officials seem strangely unmoved by the findings of a report requested by the Legislature and paid for by the Foundation for Historic Louisiana.

The study estimates that the 70-year-old Charity Hospital building could be rehabilitated in three years at a cost of $484 million. Building a new hospital would require two extra years and an additional $124 million.

It's the sort of math you'd expect the state to be moved by at a time when Louisiana faces a projected $2 billion deficit in the 2009-10 budget year that starts July 1.

It's the sort of thing in which you'd expect the New Orleans mayor or City Council to take a public interest.

Several relevant hearings were held by federal agencies, in fulfillment of requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

However, neither the mayor nor the City Council has sponsored hearings on the subject.

--- Years of waiting ---

It's been three years since American soldiers cleaned the first few floors of Charity Hospital and, according to physicians familiar with the work, rendered them safe for patients.

It's been more than three years that we have been without the city's most important health care facility.

And, if this plan goes forward, it'll be five years before a replacement facility is ready for us.

In the meantime, New Orleanians should be certain not to get sick.
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