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Wednesday, 14 July 2010 15:06

New Orleans VA Hospital Site Faces Opposition

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"We can stop the hospital," activist Eileen Comiskey declared to The
Louisiana Weekly.  "People don't believe it, but there is still time
to stop the VA hospital from destroying this neighborhood.  It's not
too late."

Comiskey was speaking of the proposed demolition of a Nineteenth
Century, predominantly African-American neighborhood in Mid-City to
make way for a new, state of the art, Veterans Administration
hospital.   The local homeowners, who had been promised their houses
could be moved to other city-owned plots elsewhere in Mid-City found
themselves facing the bulldozers two weeks ago--until Mayor Mitch
Landrieu put a 45 day moratorium on any further demolitions.
The reason?  Eight houses that had been scheduled for
relocation were demolished, including a recently renovated 1900
Shotgun double at 2421 Banks St., and the Mayor worried that that fate
would befall with remaining shot-gun doubles and other Victorian homes
scheduled to be relocated to NORA properties that entered the city's
portfolio after the Road Home buyouts.

But, Comiskey and her fellow activists do not just seek to save
the homes.  They want to stop the hospital and have construction
relocated to another plot of land.  It is a position deeply opposed by
Mayor Landrieu and most of the political, civic, and business
establishment of the city.

The footprint of the proposed new Veterans Administration
Hospital would stretch from S. Galvez to S. Rocheblave, and from Canal
St. to Tulane Ave.  There are nearly 100 historic homes that were
currently working with non-profit groups and City Hall to be moved,
out of the 600 houses that lay in the footprint of the VA and proposed
LSU teaching hospital next door.

Comiskey argues that all the dwellings can all be saved, the
vast majority if the Administration would work with the VA to build
their hospital on the S. Galvez to Claiborne Ave footprint earmarked
for the new LSU Medical Center.  The teaching hospital could then go
into a renovated Big Charity or be built right next door on the same
plot of ground as the VA.

She and her group notes that there are plenty of "million
square foot hospitals" across the country, and having them
right next to downtown and a short stroll to the Tulane and LSU
Medical schools makes far more sense.

Having a 70 acre footprint, spread out across Mid-City, Comiskey
explains, is something "the doctors don't want.  The students don't
want.  The neighborhood doesn't want.  And, people don't want."
And, it is expensive too.  The decision to rip down the
neighborhood, according to Louisiana Landmarks Society spokesperson
Betsy Stout, drained the city coffers of vital rebuilding money.  "The
homes that were demolished were purchased from the homeowners at
prices up to $285,000 by LSU and the State of Louisiana, using federal
taxpayer dollars designated for the recovery of the City of New
Orleans.  Many of these homes were fully renovated, post-Katrina, with
new roofs, new wiring, new plumbing, new paint jobs, etc.   Many of
the homeowners received Road Home money to restore their homes.  Up to
600 house are alleged in the two hospitals' proposed areas."
Comiskey worries that many of the homes are being torn down for
no other reason than to create "parking lots".  Unlike other instances
of Eminent Domain, the property will not be offered back to its
original owners if it is not used for hospitals or other public
purposes.  It can be sold on the open market, and the profits kept by
the new hospital district authority.

That's a violation of the law as Comiskey and her fellow
activists have argued in a recently filed court case that they hope
will cause the stoppage of construction on the New VA hospital--even
after the Mayor's 45 day moratorium expires.
Yet, even with a positive ruling, the activists are fighting a
universal sentiment in the Landrieu Administration, and amongst
elected officials of both parties in the state, that the economic
potential of having a two billion dollar state of the art medical
district would put New Orleans on the same treatment potential level
as Houston with its MD Anderson or other medical destinations.
Changing the plan as fundamentally as Comiskey suggests would
endanger Federal funding for the entire project and leave the city
without a teaching hospital at all--and potentially a Veterans
Administration hospital as well, according to City Hall insiders.
Nonsense, respond their critics, noting that they do not seek to
stop the Hospital district, merely relocate it onto land mere blocks
from its current proposed location.   The Houses to be demolished can
be viewed at www.savemidcityhouses.com

by Christopher Tidmore

Christopher TIdmore is on the radio weekdays from 7-8 AM on 1560 AM
New Orleans and 1590 AM Baton Rouge, online at www.gtmorning.com . An
interview with Comiskey on the hospital demolitions is available in
the "previous shows" section on the website.


Christopher TIdmore is on the radio weekdays from 7-8 AM on 1560 AM
New Orleans and 1590 AM Baton Rouge, online at www.gtmorning.com . An
interview with Comiskey on the hospital demolitions is available in
the "previous shows" section on the website.

Bayoubuzz Staff

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