New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration has made evaluating options for relocating or renovating City Hall an “absolute priority,” but the city has not yet committed to any specific site, Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said Tuesday.
He said the search for a new home for New Orleans’ city government is still in its earliest stages, with the administration planning on bringing in a consultant to evaluate the options for reworking existing buildings or starting fresh with new construction.
Interest in the potential for moving City Hall was kicked off Tuesday morning when Cantrell, answering a question about the future of Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park during a breakfast appearance before the Bureau of Governmental Research, suggested the currently vacant building would make for a good site for a new City Hall.
But Montaño said a few hours later that no decisions have been made and the auditorium is just one of several options being considered.
At this point, he said, all city-owned buildings are on the table, including some that would be logistically difficult or are already spoken for.
A brief list of potential sites Montaño went through included Municipal Auditorium but also the former Veterans Affairs building where officials cut the ribbon Tuesday on a "low-barrier" homeless shelter and the former Naval Support Activity property, a long-abandoned site at the edge of the Industrial Canal.
Lennon Wallace had only about $100 in his pocket when he heard that a new shelter on Gravier Street might have a bed for him.
The former Charity Hospital building, now the subject of redevelopment proposals by two developers, also hasn’t been taken off the list, though officials said earlier this month that housing City Hall in the old hospital would involve significant challenges.
“Nothing is ruled out, and nothing is higher on the list than others,” Montaño said.
Cantrell is the third mayor in a row to seriously consider moving City Hall, though proposals under former mayors Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu ended up fizzling out. Nagin had a deal to take over a vacant Central Business District office building, but the City Council killed that plan. Landrieu favored using Charity.
Cantrell’s reasons for considering a move are largely the same ones her predecessors cited. The current City Hall is six decades old and run-down, and it and the adjacent Civil District Court building have had serious problems with mechanical systems including their elevators.
City government has also outgrown the home built for it in the 1950s, forcing the city to spend millions of dollars a year leasing space in other nearby buildings.
“I think City Hall is a sick building. There’s no other way to phrase that, and there has to be some discussion of alternatives or a complete overhaul as a result of it,” Montaño said.
Between City Hall and rented space, city offices now occupy about 477,000 square feet of space in the CBD.
The potential timeline and the cost of a move are still up in the air, Montaño said.
Another major question is exactly what would be moved to a new City Hall.
Landrieu’s plan had involved moving not just city offices but also Civil District Court to Charity — an idea that failed in part because of opposition from the judges. Montaño said his preference would be to consolidate as many government offices as possible, including potentially the courts, to reduce costs.
Officials released more details Tuesday on the plans of the two groups vying to redevelop the former Charity Hospital building on Tulane Avenu…
Much will depend on exactly how the report shapes up and what kinds of advantages different sites provide.
“What kind of FEMA funding do you have in one building? What kind of partnerships do you have in another building? How do you offset your costs so you have the most efficient and effective City Hall?” Montaño said.
The city expects to have more information about how much office space it needs and the financial implications of the various options later this year, when the consultant's study is completed, Montaño said. At that point, the administration will look at creating a task force to dig into the options.
“We need to engage the community to help decide,” Montaño said.