The newest bid to redevelop New Orleans' vacant Charity Hospital building got underway Friday as a panel of visiting national experts made some initial recommendations on how to decide on the future use of the abandoned landmark.
The Urban Land Institute panel spent five days interviewing stakeholders, crunching numbers and touring the Tulane Avenue building and the surrounding neighborhood for a land-use study commissioned by the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans and the LSU Real Estate & Facilities Foundation.
The group recommended that the state establish a special taxing district with Charity, which is owned by the LSU board of supervisors, at its center and use some of the tax revenue from within the district to seed the 1 million-square-foot building's redevelopment.
The group also said that whatever the building becomes, it should retain the Charity name, which has a strong connection with the city.
Finally, it said, the LSU Real Estate & Facilities Foundation should create a committee of local stakeholders and use an open, transparent process to figure out what the next incarnation of the 20-story, 78-year-old building should be.
The panel will provide a fuller version of its study in 60 days, but it became clear Friday that a decision on specifically what to do with the building, which has been empty since Hurricane Katrina, is yet to come.
John Walsh, the Texas real estate consultant leading Friday's presentation, said the local committee, which should be assembled in the next month or so, could have anywhere from 10 to two dozen members representing a cross-section of institutions and interests: hospitals, universities, the business community, the arts and nearby neighborhoods.
Two of the panelists suggested Jimmy Maurin, chairman of the LSU Real Estate & Facilities Foundation and founder of Stirling Properties, should “quarterback” the effort.
Some ideas for how to use the building were bandied about, but panelists stressed they were largely hypothetical: health care, workforce housing, a tech company incubator, a municipal or arts building, or some combination of those.
The suggested taxing district would be roughly bounded by Claiborne and Loyola avenues and Poydras and Iberville streets, according to a map drawn up by the institute.
Walsh said the initiative should keep the Charity name, and the panel suggested calling the taxing district “The Spirit of Charity Innovation and Tax Increment Financing District.”
"Consistency is important in branding," Walsh said.
Lynn Ross, a Miami-based consultant, said connectivity and walkability should be a priority in redevelopment plans. Other panel members said the surrounding neighborhood needs to be active beyond a 9-to-5 schedule.
Tom Murphy, a former mayor of Pittsburgh credited with helping to revitalize that city beginning in the 1990s, said he walked the streets near the new University Medical Center and Veterans Affairs Medical Center at 5:15 p.m. one recent night and was amazed to see only a handful of people outside.
He said he is “bewildered” at Charity’s continued disuse.
“You have not focused on the most iconic building in New Orleans,” he said.
New York developer Carleton Brown said New Orleans needs to consider itself a competitor with other regional powerhouses vying for federal science grants, and activating assets like Charity is a key to doing so.
The panel suggested the effort should begin accepting proposals as early as February for the entire district and March for the building, with a “development process” to be underway by the summer.
There have been several ideas floated on how to redevelop Charity since it closed in 2005. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wanted to relocate city and judicial offices there, and former Gov. Bobby Jindal sought private developers, but nothing came of those efforts.
Yet another plan to redevelop Charity Hospital may be in the works, this time led by LSU and the LSU Foundation, the university's fundraising arm.