Tulane University is asking the city for control over four city blocks adjacent to its Uptown campus. The proposal requests “long-term leases for site control and access” to the four Uptown blocks and one block near the downtown medical school.
The request took University Area neighbors, already rankled by parking and traffic congestion in the area, by surprise.
Tulane spokesman Michael Strecker told Uptown Messenger that the university just wants to fix and maintain the Uptown streets.
“None of these areas would be closed to the public,” Strecker said in an email. “Our goal is to make ongoing surface and drainage improvements so that these streets are more accessible.”
Tulane is asking the city for control of these Uptown streets:
- 1300 block of Audubon Street, between Willow and Plum, with the university power plant and various university offices in former residential buildings.
- 7100 block of Plum Street, between Audubon Street and Broadway, with the Newcomb Children’s Center and Tulane’s Upward Bound program.
- 7000 block of Zimpel, from Audubon Street to the campus, with Tulane Catholic, an archdiocese church on the corner of Audubon; the Phi Beta Phi Sorority; and two Newcomb performing arts buildings, Dixon Concert Hall and Ellenora P. McWilliams Hall.
- 1000 block of Audubon Street, between Zimpel and Freret, with privately owned student housing, including apartment buildings and fraternity and sorority houses, as well as office space owned by Tulane.
The downtown street, the 300 block of South Liberty, would be closed to the vehicle traffic as part of a $600 million expansion and revitalization of Tulane’s medical campus, Strecker said, but the Uptown streets would remain open.
“We are in the very early stages of exploring the possibility of long-term leases with the city that would allow us to improve and maintain small portions of streets that are contiguous or interior to our campuses,” Tulane’s statement said.
The proposal goes before the City Planning Commission’s Planning Advisory Committee on Wednesday (May 17). Made up of the executive directors of 14 city departments and agencies, this committee irons out technical issues in more complex proposals, including those involving city streets, before they go to the City Planning Commission.
After the CPC makes its recommendation, the City Council will have the final say on the proposal.
In a letter Monday (May 15) to the Planning Advisory Committee, to Audubon Street resident Keith Hardie asked the committee to delay or deny Tulane’s request for long-term leases on the Uptown streets.
He said the plan was not made public until last Thursday (May 11) and neighbors need more time to consider its effects. Hardie asked to see a traffic impact study of the plan but did not receive a response. The CPC’s administrative rules require a traffic impact analysis before the temporary or permanent closure of city streets.
“The area is already severely congested, and the city cannot to continue to approve proposals that will increase that congestion,” said Hardie, who successfully fought the 2014 closure of Newcomb Boulevard. “Approval of this proposal will help neither the students nor the permanent residents.”
Hardie notes that Tulane has approximately 1,200 faculty members, 2,900 staff members and 14,472 students. Loyola University generates additional traffic, plus there’s the twice-daily traffic from drop-off and pickup at the Willow School.
“Every day that school (Tulane) is in session, many of these students, faculty and staff drive to the University Area, which was mostly designed and built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” he stated. “The streets are narrow and cannot handle high parking demand.”
The two large campuses already interrupt the traffic grid, he said, so drivers have few options to avoid the congestion that regularly builds up on Broadway at Freret and Willow streets. “It cannot bear the loss of more alternate routes,” Hardie said.
The Planning Advisory Committee will discuss the lease proposals today (May 17) at 1 p.m. in the One Stop Shop Conference Room A (Room 7W03) in City Hall, 1300 Perdido St.
Katherine Hart is the managing editor of NOLA Messenger. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.