This publication restates its strong support for the VA/LSU hospital project proposed for the area that borders the downtown business district. We do so with the hope that the arguing will soon end and the construction will begin so that the city can more quickly receive the benefits that the complex will bring.
Nevertheless, because debate is part of the process in a democracy, we offer these thoughts:
Charity Hospital. We believe an adequate, perhaps good, general service urban hospital can be built into the existing Charity Hospital site. What cannot be built there is a world-class medical facility offering the most advanced medical treatments and attracting some of the best talent among medical professionals. That requires new construction with buildings built specifically to flow services, provide advanced patient care and to house innovative medical equipment. Charity Hospital is a fine old building that could be converted into office space and housing. It could still be a part of the complex, but it’s insufficient to be the centerpiece.
Preservation. Media reports about opposition to the project generally refer to the opponents as “preservationists.” While we respect the good intentions of those opponents we, however, are unwilling to concede the title “preservationists” to any one side of the debate. As a magazine we have felt a mission to help preserve the culture, tradition and history of this city. It is possible to be in favor of the project and still be a preservationist. We hope that there will be a way to preserve, perhaps by relocation, some of the significant homes in the area and we are already on record for wanting to save Deutches Haus.
We feel that the economic benefits of the project may actually help preserve area neighborhoods by bringing new money and new people into them. The area in question had long been abandoned as a functioning neighborhood years before Hurricane Katrina, so much so that in the 1980s, there was a movement to close nearby St. Joseph Church because it had lost its population. To truly preserve neighborhoods there needs to be people and jobs; without both, more neighborhoods may deteriorate. We are proud to be preservationists; because of that we are proud to support the hospital project.
Neighborhood names. Both sides have frequently referred to the proposed area as the “Mid-City site.” That is a misleading term. Though on some maps a few blocks of the area may be located on the far edge of Mid-City, the center of the neighborhood by that name is much further down at the corner of Canal Street and Carrollton Avenue, where the name originated. To call the area Mid-City confuses the issue and suggests a neighborhood life that isn’t really there. The area should be referred to as what it really is, an extension of the downtown business section.
Development Stereotypes. We hear the same arguments anytime there’s a major development issue on the table. There is always the suspicion of greedy, land grabbing developers out to plunder the common good. Many of the arguments we hear today remind us of when another massive project was being planned: the Superdome. Then, too, there was a fear of nefarious land deals and of greedy speculators who just wanted to steal from the public trough.
Development, especially of public projects, isn’t a vocation for the meek. It is a tough business that involves land deals, suspicious minds, speculators and cynical onlookers, yet cities cannot survive without the dream of developers who had the big ideas and fought for them. If there’s potential for corruption, we urge the U.S. Attorney, Inspector General and the District Attorney to watch every step of the way. We are aware, though, that in any endeavor, those who want to steal know it’s best to do some from the less sensational projects where no one is looking, rather than from the high profile jobs that have everyone’s attention. To date, we have no reason to be suspicious of the integrity of the planners or the value of the project.
Space. Beyond the economic value of the hospital complex we have another reason to favor it: we are personally sickened to hear of New Orleanians having to go someplace else, perhaps Houston or Minneapolis, quite often at their own expense, to get specialized treatment for complex diseases. We feel personally embarrassed that Birmingham, Ala., has become a more important medical center than New Orleans. Medical technology is one of the few areas that New Orleans has a chance to assume leadership, and that’s a high-prestige, high-paying business. Here is an opportunity for the city to move beyond mere recovery to achieving greatness.