New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu won a round Wednesday in his effort to get judges at the Civil District Court to move into the former Charity Hospital, rather than build themselves a new courthouse.
The victory came when the BioDistrict New Orleans board, a state entity, voted unanimously not to help finance a courthouse.
The vote leaves the judges without clear financing for a new home; they also don’t have a site.
These developments could pressure the judges to reluctantly accept Landrieu’s plan to put courtrooms as well as City Hall inside a remodeled Charity. The hospital was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has been empty since.
The judges had approached the BioDistrict board about using its authority to sell bonds as a way to finance the $100 million courthouse they want to build on Duncan Plaza, across from City Hall, or elsewhere in the Central Business District.
But after strong lobbying by the Landrieu administration, led by Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, the board decided that financing the courthouse was out of line with the BioDistrict’s mission, which is to spur investment by health care and bioscience companies.
“This isn’t whether it’s about Charity or Duncan Plaza,” said board member Roger Ogden, a developer and arts patron. “It’s only about whether we view it’s within our expertise and prime mission.”
Landrieu wants to move City Hall into Charity, but because the building is huge — a million square feet — he needs at least one other big tenant. Adding to the court’s appeal as a co-tenant, the judges control revenue streams that could cover some of the building’s annual upkeep.
Landrieu has also suggested welcoming Delgado’s school of nursing into the building. But renovations won’t be completed until 2018 at the earliest, and Delgado wants to begin training more nurses next year, in time for the 2015 opening of the new LSU hospital, across Claiborne Avenue.
The BioDistrict board voted after Judge Kern Reese told them that “squalor is one word that can be used to describe” the current Civil District Court building. “We’re the only trial court in the country that doesn’t have its own jury deliberation room,” he said.
Reese said the court would pay “a substantial development fee” to the BioDistrict for selling bonds to fund the courthouse.
Afterward, Reese told The Lens that the judges can find another way to pay for the courthouse. The appeal of partnering with the BioDistrict was that it could have served as the judges’ mortgage broker, while also monitoring construction and providing other expertise, Reese said. Purchasers of the bonds would have been, in effect, the mortgage holders.
In the meantime, the judges are stymied. They can’t build in Duncan Plaza unless the Jindal administration transfers land to them that’s controlled by the state — something Landrieu administration officials have sought to block, so far successfully.
The cost of rebuilding Charity is estimated at about $300 million. Landrieu is seeking $100 million in state construction funds in 2014 to help pay for the overhaul. He has only $13 million in hand so far.
Even without securing the financing or a site, the judges have invited bids for building themselves a new courthouse. The bids are due on Nov. 29.