Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: Moving City Hall to former Charity site has many challenges

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Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

Nothing in New Orleans is ever simple. For example, consider Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to move our obsolete City Hall over to vacant Charity Hospital.

Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris says that’s a fine idea for city government but it doesn’t work for the Civil Courts who have their own plans and money to refit the former state office building site in Duncan Plaza. “We won’t be moving to Charity Hospital,” says Judge Bagneris. Evidently many other CDC judges agree.

Judge Bagneris adds that it took 13 years to convince the state and the Louisiana Legislature to underwrite the move to the state office building site. Now, says Bagneris, Landrieu is trying to undo all of that with his insistence that the courts move with city government to old Charity.

One of those who is hoping that the mayor is able to change the minds of Judge Bagneris and his fellow jurists is Pres Kabacoff. Kabacoff, whose company, HRI, is one of the best in the world at taking old buildings and making them like new, is also one of New Orleans’ best visionaries and thinkers.

He says that beyond the politics, the big issue is the need to revive what Kabacoff calls “the center city.” In his view, the riverfront has become strong and the lakefront is in the midst of a great revival that is making it strong. The weakness, says Kabacoff, is in the center where the huge Charity complex sits vacant, the old Iberville Housing Project is an architectural monstrosity that deters investors and Canal Street, once you get away from the riverfront, is largely empty.

If the judges would go along, Kabacoff would like to see Charity retrofitted with separate wings, one for city government and another for the Civil Courts judiciary.

Kabacoff believes that if Charity Hospital became the home of city government and the courts, with the new state hospital and the VA rising in the Mid-City area, it becomes possible to bring big-time retail back to Canal Street because there are now thousands of workers within five to 10 minutes of what could be a great shopping complex just as in the old days when ladies put on their high heels and gloves to go shopping downtown. Kabacoff doesn’t think high heels and gloves will be coming back but he does feel that Canal Street can again be a mix of retail, residential and tourism.

So where are we? As so often happens in New Orleans, we’re nowhere. Landrieu says the move to Charity doesn’t work without the courts. The courts say, “Hell no. We won’t go.” Kabacoff says if a compromise can be reached, the move to Charity will become a major element in the revitalization of the center city. “If we can accomplish this – and I know it’s difficult, but something of this enormity is always difficult – it will bring New Orleans to a new prosperity for the next 100 years.” We should also note that if the judges agreed the move to old Charity along with City Hall, that large piece of existing land just across from the Superdome would become an outstanding investment opportunity developers from around the country would kill for.

Back in the 1960s, a fellow named Dave Dixon had a great idea for a Domed Stadium for New Orleans. He worked with a great New Orleans mayor, whose name is Moon Landrieu, to overcome a thousand obstacles that seemingly stood in the way of the Super Dome. With the help of a governor named John J. McKeithen, they somehow made it work. So the question in 2013 is who will play the roles of Dave Dixon, Moon Landrieu and John McKeithen, to end the deadlock and come up with a resolution to the dilemma of moving City Hall out of its current obsolete facility into a future home that will bolster the remarkable comeback since Hurricane Katrina of this resilient city that we call the Big Easy but where nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Mark Vicknair, president of the Alliance For Good Government, is telling everyone that he intends to run for Criminal Court Magistrate. We can’t remember another Alliance president who sought elected office. Vicknair is prepared to put big dollars into campaign his account to show he’s serious. Also thought to be running is former judicial candidate Harry Cantrell, father-in-law of Councilmember LaToya Cantrell. We remember when LaToya ran and she was recognized as the daughter-in-law of Harry. My, how times have changed!

What kind of Sheriff would build a new prison in New Orleans without proper mental health facilities? Who doesn’t know that many of the people in jail today are there because of mental problems. We know that the Sheriff has great architects – Billy Sizeler and his partners – who will surely produce some wonderful drawings before tomorrow’s mandatory court appearance even if they have to stay up all night. Would it be easier to have designed the building correctly the first time? Even so, African-Americans will still turn out in large numbers for Gusman next winter.

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.

6 thoughts on “Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: Moving City Hall to former Charity site has many challenges

  1. ” the old Iberville Housing Project is an architectural monstrosity” What? According to the federal government it is a historic landmark.

    The major issue with the plan to move City Hall to Charity, is that the City’s plan to pay for it does not work. They are depending on $100 million from the State (of which they have only $13 million), and $70 to $80 million in bonds which the City does have and would have to get voter approval for a new bond measure.

    • We may as well just call new Orleans Pres Kabacoff City. “best visionaries and thinkers.” Really? Maybe that’s our problem.

  2. The new State hospital in Lower MidCity? You mean the one that has been privatized and will be operated at a cost of 280 million dollars/year to taxpayers and will be run by Louisiana Children’s Medical Center Corp? As opposed to a public hospital that was still 100 million to taxpayers. Bad but better than 280.

  3. Oh!! More retail, more shopping, more retail, more shopping oh my! Come on guys get real! American is post-industrial and rapidly becoming a post-consumer economy & besides that, retail provides our city’s people with nothing beyond mind-numbing crappy jobs with crappy low & poverty-level wages. Why is it so many other cities have figured this out and New Orleans has not – if Pres, et al are such visionaries we would hear more about quality jobs at decent wages and more New Economy initiatives that benefit someone other than the mayor, Pres and their buddies ……. Geesh!

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