NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Some of the city's biggest movers and shakers met Friday to discuss getting one of the city's biggest vacant properties back into commerce. They say the redevelopment of old Charity Hospital and the real estate around it is very doable, but the time to act is now.
After 12 years of dormancy, Charity has become something of a forgotten hulk on the city skyline, but urban planners see a world of opportunity.
"The hospital can be the artistic centerpiece and a useful facility for the community," said John Walsh with the Urban Land Institute.
Friday, Tom Murphy, a former mayor of Pittsburgh, was among a panel of experts making recommendations on how to move forward.
"As an old mayor, my mouth waters when I look around there, and see all that land that's tax exempt," said Murphy.
He says he led an effort that which converted an old steel mill into an area that is now an $800 million public-private Pittsburgh centerpiece.
"When you say we can't do it without money, don't talk to me about it. Pittsburgh was the brokest city in America," said Murphy.
The panelists say the project, which they call The Spirit of Charity could require about $260 million to develop, but they say money is not the biggest problem.
"It won't happen if you don't have a process. It looks complicated, but it can be simple," said Walsh.
The group also suggests that the hospital's best uses are for educational and workforce development, museum uses or retail. It also says it's not immediately suitable as offices, hotel or medical space in a district that should be made more pedestrian friendly.
"There's a lot of greenspace in New Orleans, but there should be more, and it should tie to the stadium." said Walsh.
As for who will lead the redevelopment, there are several possibilities. The LSU Foundation and LSU Health, which owns Charity, invited the Urban Land Institute to provide direction, but there's currently no one entity spearheading a project that planners say should move forward on two tracks - one for the hospital and the other for the district around it.
"Maybe the DDD could staff this, but this is more diverse than our organization," said Kurt Weigle with the Downtown Development District.
The urban planners believe the redevelopment could be funded by creation of a special taxing district.
"It's about the vision, not the money," said Murphy.
And they say now is the time to develop that vision, "in the spirit of Charity."
Earlier this year, the state spent more than $6 million to clean out the hospital. If targets outlined by the Urban Land Institute hold true, a strategic plan to redevelop Charity could be ready in seven months.