Several weeks ago, we wrote a column listing a number of reasons why Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to move City Hall to the iconic but empty Charity Hospital was an excellent idea.
In the course of our interview with him, Pres Kabacoff said he hoped that the Civil District Court judges would reconsider their plans to build a new Civil District Court building in Duncan Plaza – adjacent to the current City Hall on Loyola Avenue – and instead decide to join Mayor Landrieu’s administration and the City Council in the move to Charity.
That all seemed reasonable enough to us, but then we received a visit from Civil District Court Judges Michael Bagneris and Kern Reese who told us the court is dead set on building their own structure and won’t be swayed by the mayor to move to Charity.
The CDC judges have been diligently working on their plans for a new building since 2009, having been thinking about the new building for the last 20 years or more. Anyone who has visited the current Civil District Court – adjacent to City Hall – can see that the Court’s current quarters are hopelessly outdated, inadequate and obsolete. Built some 60 years ago, the current Civil District Court isn’t wired for the computer age and lacks basic facilities like conference rooms where lawyers can meet with their clients. And, the roof leaks.
So, back in 2009, the Civil District Court judges set about lining up their plans for a new building. They got legislative approval, state approval and approval from the lawyers who work at Civil District Court. They also lined up their money – slightly over $105 million – that the new Civil District Court building will cost. They also in 2010 got the approval of New Orleans’ newly-elected mayor, a promising young fellow named Mitch Landrieu.
On November 22, 2010, Mayor Landrieu wrote a letter to the State Judicial Council asking them to approve higher fees for the Civil District Court to help fund the new building. At that time, clearly, Mayor Landrieu was not yet thinking about moving city government – including the Civil District Court – to the abandoned Charity Hospital.
In his 2010 letter, Mayor Landrieu wrote, “The current building . . . is inadequate and costly to maintain. The Legislature passed a bill that permits the city an opportunity to build a municipal complex and courthouse on the Duncan Plaza site. I support this concept . . .”
Now we all know that it is a mayoral prerogative for a mayor to change his or her mind. Mayors are also allowed to say, “It’s true that was what I said at the time but now I’m saying something else.”
In addition, when the judges learned in 2012 that the mayor was considering a move to Charity Hospital and wanted the judges to come along, the jurists brought in a couple of architectural experts on courtrooms to check out Charity Hospital. The architects said, and put in writing, that for a wide variety of reasons that the conversion of part of Charity Hospital to a courthouse would be extremely difficult and perhaps impossible. One major problem, they said, is that Charity’s 1930s architectural style includes a profusion of columns from floor to ceiling. One of the first rules of courtroom construction is that a judge and his (or her) bailiffs must have an unobstructed view of the courtroom for obvious reasons. Hence, no columns.
City Hall could still relocate to Charity but additional uses for the remaining floor would have to be found. The remaining space could be subdivided for use by several businesses. We understand a federally commissioned study suggested that the Charity site would be ideal as a residential facility with some commercial space to support employees of our growing health care industry. It could also become the home of health-care training facilities. Then the City Hall – Civil District Court site could become some sort of sports-entertainment complex, perhaps something SMG or the Benson organization would want to operate. There are lots of possibilities, but one thing we are sure of is that the judges won’t be going to Charity if they can avoid it.
JUDICIAL CANDIDATES WELL ON THEIR WAY TOWARD ELECTION
The only surprise at the end of qualifying last week was former Judge Morris Reed’s eleventh hour decision to qualify for Magistrate Judge instead of Traffic Court. But with the crowded Traffic Court field, who could blame him? Reed could be a spoiler in Harry Cantrell’s chance to make it into a run-off against Mark Vicknair. Vicknair has been busy picking up endorsements from the RDO and the Orleans Parish Republicans. Local Republicans also endorsed Richard Perque, which surprised many insiders.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.