Land Use

Move now to turn Charity into City Hall, and work on finding other tenants from there

Since Charity Hospital was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, it seems like everyone has come forward with a plan for the adaptive reuse of the Art Deco masterpiece. And yet eight years later it stands empty. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to put City Hall and Civil District Court in the building, though he hasn’t gotten the judges to agree. The Lens solicited the views of our readers and city leaders; over the next several days we are publishing edited versions of their ideas. Post your reactions in the comments below each story.

Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to put City Hall into the magnificent Charity Hospital building is a start. No single building in New Orleans, other than the Superdome, makes its presence felt so strongly on the skyline and the street. To let it stay dirty and derelict inflicts gloom on the entire city. Get it back to life now.

Jack Davis

Claiborne Davis

Jack Davis

A new City Hall can lead the thinking toward a collection of uses that can fill up the gigantic, million-square-foot structure. Neuroscience center, nursing school, courtrooms, biomedical incubators, hotels, condos – whatever. Bring them on. We don’t need to have all the wings rented in advance to get this moving. The tenants will come.

Some thoughts:

  • To see how great Charity will look, admire the stunningly renovated Louisiana State Capitol building and the stunningly renovated Lakefront Airport. These are of the same decade, same state government, same accomplished architects, same Art Deco style, same materials, same limestone. They look fabulous, and Charity will too.

  • Don’t let Civil District Court be a deal-breaker. The mayor doesn’t need this diminished institution to make the Charity plan fly. The judges are trying to get us to pay for 14 courtrooms when we need only seven.

  • In fact, Charity could tidily house all the courtrooms of all the parish and municipal courts. They’d fit neatly because we only need 20 of the current 45 judges in Civil District Court, Criminal District Court, Traffic Court, Municipal Court, Juvenile Court, First City Court and Second City Court.

  • Don’t think for a minute about tearing down the current City Hall. It’s a mess now because of the shabby treatment city government gives its properties. But the building will be regarded in the next decade as a distinguished modernist design, and will clean up well. When this new City Hall was finished in the 1950s, some thought we could dispose of the old City Hall. It’s a good thing preservationists stopped them, because that’s the building we are now proud to have as Gallier Hall.

  • Charity and everything around it – the new LSU and VA hospitals, the renovated Iberville project – will be more valuable when we take down the portion of Interstate 10 that hovers over Claiborne Avenue.

  • To see an Art Deco city hall that its citizens are immensely proud of, look at Buffalo’s 1932 building. It’s about half the square footage of Charity, but at 32 stories, it’s a comparable.

Jack Davis has been a reporter, editor and publisher at newspapers in New Orleans, Chicago, Virginia and Connecticut and follows urban design issues in New Orleans.

Others weigh in on the future of Charity

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  • Janet Hays

    Just a note of clarification re: the following statement – “Since Charity Hospital was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, it seems like everyone and has come forward with a plan for the adaptive reuse of the Art Deco masterpiece.”

    Charity Hospital was NOT abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. It was intentionally shuttered by LSU and the State in favor of demolishing Lower-MidCity – [an historic neighborhood] – under the pretense of it being irreversibly damaged. During a time of trauma when Charity was ready to open and fully staffed on September 17, 2005, this was arguably an international crime against humanity.

    In addition, there was almost no opportunity for resident involvement in the adaptive reuse of Charity. There were supposed to be three Section 106 NEPA meetings. Consulting parties were informed of only one. There were notices for the other two in the Times Picayune but consulting parties were not notified. Therefore no residents attended the final two meetings and they were adjourned.

    That said, while I agree with Mr Davis that the Current City Hall is in desperate need of repair, I am also told that we are in a sum-zero-game budget environment. [Check twitter for the Sum-Zero-Game mini-series script ;)].

    Would it not be cheaper to renovate the current “modernist” building than to ask residents to absorb the expense of moving City Hall to the Charity building?

    Mr. Davis’ idea is certainly in line with the billion-dollar “vision” proposed by Pres Kabacoff – who also extols the virtues of being able to walk out of the civic center onto a park. The problem with that idea is that the money Mr. Kabacoff and Mr. Davis advocate we spend is not their money. It is our money.

    So, the thing is…. where’s the park? Kabacoff proposes demolishing the Butterworth building to create a park. Who will pay for all of this and why demolish another historic building? There is already a park outside of the current City Hall.

    WHY THE BIG PUSH TO DUMP THE CONTENTS OF CITY HALL somewhere else when Mr. Davis says the building can be restored???

    So, unless the Mayor can find a way to fund the project – without public dollars seeing as we’re apparently broke – the Civil District Court , AKA “diminished institution” IS a deal breaker as the City needs their money for the project.

    Until the City can produce a feasibility study I don’t think it is wise to put one penny into this project.

    “The MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning released today new research that explores the evolution of the urban planning and design of public places toward a process called “placemaking.” Placemaking is an innovative approach to transforming communities by creating and revitalizing open, public spaces around the needs and desires of the community.”

    NEEDS AND DESIRES of the community. NOT NEEDS AND DESIRES of developers.

  • Hoodoonola

    “Don’t let Civil District Court be a deal-breaker. The mayor doesn’t need
    this diminished institution to make the Charity plan fly. The judges
    are trying to get us to pay for 14 courtrooms when we need only seven.”

    Davis obviously does not think much of our Civil District Court, or our city’s judicial system in general, given this statement. However he obviously thinks quite highly of our Mayor and the city’s wealthy elite real estate developers, while many in the city who have failed to be included in so many of the plans that have come from mayor’s office that support these businesses over our citizenry tend to think of this office now as a “diminished institution”…. however, given the many strategies currently in play to increase the city’s population with new tech entrepreneurs from elsewhere and to attract all these others large companies (also from elsewhere) and their employees to New Orleans (over growing our indigenous businesses), then won’t there be a time soon when we will need those 45 judges and 14 courtrooms?