With a new governor set to take office next week, the state is likely to delay any decision on the fate of the former Charity Hospital building in New Orleans in favor of hiring a consultant to take a new look at how to move forward, officials said Thursday.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration sought ideas nearly a year ago for what to do with the 1 million-square-foot facility on Tulane Avenue, which was closed in 2005 after it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.
The state received five responses to its request for “creative and innovative redevelopment ideas,” including one from developers who offered to buy the building and others from groups proposing to renovate it and lease the space.
The proposed uses ranged from a mental health facility to combinations of retail stores, apartments, a hotel and a biomedical facility.
Local officials and interested developers offered mixed reactions to news of a likely delay, though most said they thought it was understandable.
City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose district includes the hospital, welcomed what she described as a “fresh start” to the process.
“It didn’t feel like an inclusive process,” Cantrell said of the earlier effort, which she said did not include much input from the city. “With the new leadership coming on, New Orleans will be included on a lot of different matters.”
State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, who was part of a committee tasked with reviewing the proposals, said the group met once but needed more information and direction to make a decision. A key issue that remains undecided, she said, is whether the state would be better off leasing the property or selling it outright.
Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, who will be inaugurated Monday, has not decided how to proceed with the facility, according to his spokeswoman, Julie Baxter Payer.
“Once he takes office, the governor-elect will gather the necessary information from appropriate state and local officials to help him in deciding how to proceed forward,” Payer said Thursday.
Getting a consultant on board is necessary for the committee to make an informed decision, Moreno said, referencing the city’s process for selecting a developer for the former World Trade Center building. The city had a committee score each proposal on factors such as construction and management plans, financial resources and the terms of the proposed lease agreement with the city.
The development team of Carpenter & Co. and Woodward Design + Build beat out four other teams with a proposal to convert the 33-story, 1960s office building into a Four Seasons hotel and condominiums.
“Being that (Charity Hospital) is such an important piece of property in the city, we owe the public the due diligence to really research each one of these proposals to make sure that they really are the best for the city and for the state,” Moreno said.
She said she is optimistic that a consultant could be hired by next month and a new request for proposals released by March.
News of the delay drew mixed reactions from interested developers.
Michael Brandner of CHR Partners LLC, a team that includes local developers Joseph Jaeger and Joseph Stebbins, criticized the delay, saying his group was ready to buy Charity for $30 million and spend $245 million renovating it into apartments, a hotel, a biomedical facility and retail stores.
“I don’t think that anybody was expecting a group to come forward to say, ‘Look, we’ll just buy the whole thing,’ ” he said.
But Josh Collen, vice president of development with Historic Restoration Inc., which has proposed spending $194 million to revamp the hospital into an apartment complex, artist lofts, a day care center, retail stores and a medical research facility, said restarting the process makes sense.
“I’m not terribly surprised. It’s a very important building for the state and the city,” he said. “Obviously, they want to get it right and make sure they pick the right partner and find the right project.”
Other proposals for the property came from Healing Minds NOLA, which wants to convert the hospital into a mental health facility; Dallas-based Matthews Southwest’s plan to spend $232 million to create affordable apartments, a hotel, offices and retail stores surrounding a revamped Tulane Avenue plaza; and the University of North Carolina School of Government, which would create a development plan for residential, retail, office, hospitality and civic uses, plus parking.
The state issued a request for ideas on how to develop the 76-year-old art deco structure in April after Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s $400 million plan to move City Hall and Civil District Court into it fizzled.
The building’s basement flooded during Katrina, but the rest of the 20-story structure remains largely intact.
Advocate staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.