The area surrounding the former Charity Hospital building in New Orleans should be redeveloped into a district that is home to technology companies, universities, retail and mixed-income housing, according to a report released Monday.
The report is the first from the steering committee of the Spirit of Charity Innovation District, which proposes to use tax incentives and other urban-planning techniques to revitalize the hospital and the underused city blocks that surround it.
The plan, spearheaded by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, does not evaluate two proposals for the redevelopment of the Charity complex itself that are now under consideration. But it sketches in broad strokes recommendations for how to build out the rest of the area bounded by Iberville Street, Loyola Avenue and Elk Place, Poydras Street and Claiborne Avenue.
The former hospital is envisioned as a central anchor of the district.
“The neighborhood around the former Charity Hospital should be a walkable, active, vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income community where New Orleanians come to ‘Live, Work, Play and Heal,' ” according to one of the “guiding principles” laid out in the report.
If it comes to fruition, the plan would be a dramatic change for the 116-acre area, which now contains mainly government, university and hospital buildings. While condos, apartments, restaurants and stores have popped up across the rest of the Central Business District in recent years, there is little housing in the Charity district and few shops or restaurants that would draw notice from anyone but nearby office workers on their breaks.
"While New Orleans has seen a lot of progress, the former Charity Hospital and the area around it has been left for dead," Greater New Orleans Foundation President and CEO Andy Kopplin, who has been leading the planning effort, said at an event at the Jung Hotel unveiling the proposal.
The report was put together by representatives of various groups that advocate for specific causes that could get a boost from the way the district develops, including more affordable housing, greater economic equity and improved public transit.
It largely follows the same basic contours that officials have been describing since the planning effort began several months ago, filling in some of the gaps with general recommendations but leaving the exact details to be determined later.
Kopplin said subgroups made up of those who have guided the process so far will continue to meet and come up with specific steps to be taken moving forward, including recommendations on how to create a tax-increment financing district to generate revenue that can be directed toward the agreed-upon goals.
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The document says the area should be focused on attracting businesses, particularly information technology and medical technology firms, in order to build on the decision by DXC Technology to locate a 2,000-person office on Poydras Street, at the edge of district.
DXC represents a significant step forward for the district, on both symbolic and practical levels, and could be just the first of multiple technology firms that could be housed in the nearby office towers, said GNO Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht.
And with the Tulane and LSU medical schools, Tulane Medical Center, University Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center all in or near the district, the area could also become a hub for destination health care and medical technology firms, Hecht said.
The report recommends using incentives and a venture capital fund to lure established businesses and encourage start-ups in the Charity district. Similar funding mechanisms could also be used to encourage firms owned by minorities and women to be part of the redevelopment effort.
Beyond that, the report says, retail businesses should be encouraged to bring more activity to the area, particularly in the evening, and universities — which already have a significant presence in the area — should be encouraged to expand their footprints.
Affordable housing plays a key role in the proposal, with planners suggesting the district should set as a goal to “enable anyone who works in the district to live in the district if they so choose.” Specific recommendations include that half of all housing in the district financed with public money should be affordable for households making about the area median income, plus the creation of an “employer assisted housing program.”
HousingNOLA Executive Director Andreanecia Morris said the district presents a unique opportunity because it is a centrally located but underdeveloped area, something that she said other cities facing similar affordable housing crises do not have.
City Hall, the Civil District Court and the main public library should remain in the district, in part because the area serves as a hub for public transportation, according to the report.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration is in the early stages of exploring options for renovating or moving City Hall, which is only three blocks from Charity. The list of options, which essentially encompasses all city-owned properties, includes many sites outside the Charity district.
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The report also recommends creating a transit hub in the district and improving or adding to park space there to provide recreation opportunities and to aid in stormwater retention.
Existing tax incentives, through either state or federal programs, could help finance some projects. The report also endorses the idea of creating a tax-increment financing district, which would raise additional revenue that would be directed back to projects in the district.
Both proposals for the Charity building itself, which are currently being considered by the LSU Real Estate and Facilities Foundation, also envision using such financing.
The exact details of such a tax district are left vague, though the report urges an “equitable distribution” of the expected revenue between redeveloping Charity itself and redeveloping the surrounding area.
State Rep. Royce Duplessis, who represents the area, said the district presents possibilities for dealing with a range of issues that he described as crises, including low wages, crime, poor educational performance and a lack of affordable housing.
"This is an opportunity to deal with all those substantive issues in a way that I don’t think this city has seen for a very long time," Duplessis said. "Much of the property we’re focused on right now is publicly controlled. We all have a large stake in what happens in this particular area."
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