NEW ORLEANS - The Landrieu Administration is asking state lawmakers to contribute some of the money needed to put the old Charity Hospital building in New Orleans back into commerce.
Big Charity sits on Tulane Avenue, frozen in time. Hurricane Katrina shuttered the iconic art-deco style former hospital. It sustained severe flood damage during the storm. Mayor Mitch Landrieu says repurposing the building is one of his legislative priorities this year.
"It's a fairly large project," said Landrieu. "It requires (state) capital outlay money. There's some federal money. There's some city money involved and we're trying to put the pieces together that make sense in terms of building a civic complex that's really for the 21st century of New Orleans.”
Cost estimates are in the $300 million range. The city is hoping the state would pick-up about a third of the cost. "The state owns that building," said Landrieu. "The state took the money out of that building that it received from FEMA and put it in the new University Medical Center. As thankful as I am to have the new University Medical Center, the state left behind a building. That's an historic building, that nobody would ever talk about tearing down, so it has to be put back in use."
According to one plan, city hall would occupy floors 10 through 20. The city council chamber would be located on the first floor and the Civil District Court would have floors 2 through 8. But, Mayor Landrieu says it's too early to discuss his vision for the building.
"We don't like to announce projects formally until we actually have it locked down," said Landrieu. "We'll continue to work on this one. We hope we make some progress this session on it."
Preservationists are cautiously optimistic. "It certainly is a ray of hope that the building at least could get some use and come back to life as something," said Louisiana Landmarks Society Executive Director Walter Gallas. "Any historic building of that caliber that's able to continue in some sort of use, I think that's a good thing."
Gallas says the 1930s building can still a big part of the city's future.
"The building needs a little more love and it needs to be cleaned up, just physically cleaned up even just from the exterior, but you can see what it was in its heyday and what it still could represent to the community."
The mayor says the project would be an economic engine. "This in my opinion is a catalytic project much like the airport, much like rebuilding the riverfront and it's something that requires a lot of thought and we continue to put the pieces together," said Landrieu.
The current city hall built in 1956 has been described as too small and functionally obsolete. The old Charity building has about 1.2 million square feet of potential office space.