The area around the old LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center already has plenty of liquor stores, payday loan shops and strip malls, so they don’t want anymore built, neighbors of the closed facility told political leaders Thursday night.
What’s needed is a good grocery store that sells healthy foods. Or maybe once the Earl is torn down, the 13-acre site also could include an entertainment center, maybe even a park.
About 80 to 90 people participated in a neighborhood meeting to come up with ideas for the north Baton Rouge site that since the 1960s was home to the charity hospital servicing this part of Louisiana. Known as the Earl, the 14-building facility closed in April 2013 when LSU moved its inpatient operations and medical education programs to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center off Essen Lane in south Baton Rouge.
The clearing of the property is underway. Auxiliary buildings are scheduled to be demolished this month and the hospital later this year after asbestos is mitigated.
A million dollars has been set aside to tear it all down sometime this year.
Elected officials and community leaders said they didn’t want the hospital campus to become an eyesore on the heavily traveled Airline Highway.
The demolition of the Earl is the first step in a process that ultimately will turn the property over to the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority for development.
“What are the needs of the community? What are the desires of the community?” Democratic state Sen. Sharon Broome said in opening the “Public Vision Charrette,” hosted by members of the Louisiana Legislature and the Metro Council, who, like Broome, represent the neighborhoods around the Earl.
Residents from the nearby communities broke up into teams — calling themselves names like “The Blue Skies” and “In My Backyard” — and sat around tables brainstorming. They discussed what they would like to see and what they didn’t want, and sketched out conceptual plans.
“Allow there to be no boundaries of what you would like to see in our community,” said state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.
Willie Hawkins, who lives near the hospital, said his group wanted some green space as part of whatever is developed.
Attendees filled out questionnaires asking “What is missing from northeast Baton Rouge? What would you like to see built on this site? What do you NOT wish to see built on this site?”
Planners assisting the group warned that there are limitations on mixed-use development plans because of the relatively small size of the site — between 13 and 14 acres.
Metro Council member Ronnie Edwards said it typically takes two years to bring a project to fruition.
Broome said the state does not have any money to redevelop the site.
“Our goal tonight is just like if you were going to seek funding for a business: You have to have a business plan,” Broome said.
Broome said the feedback will be compiled during the next month and another meeting scheduled.
Weeds have grown in the cracks of the concrete since nearly 780 state employees lost their jobs as a result of the closure. Our Lady of the Lake reported at the time that it hired about 350 people — 90 percent of which were former employees of the Earl — to work at the hospital and its newly assumed outpatient centers.
Twentieth Century Fox last year used the dilapidated hospital, clinics, mental health emergency room, library and other buildings on the abandoned campus to film scenes for its “Fantastic Four” sequel, the movie version of the Marvel Comics serials about a team of scientists with superpowers. The movie is expected to be released this summer.