On the heels of the Saints’ victory, the Big Easy had another big win this week, this time in the form of a $474.8 million FEMA payment. But preservationists have been dealt a major blow in their fight to save 70-year-old Charity Hospital in New Orleans, along with a tract of historic homes and structures in the city’s Mid-City district. For the past four years, Louisiana state officials have been at loggerheads with FEMA over the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s damages to Charity, which has been shuttered since the storm. On Wednesday, a federal arbitration panel ordered FEMA to pay nearly all of the requested replacement costs for the state-owned hospital. The ruling was a triumph for city and state officials who argued that Charity was more than 50 percent damaged by the hurricane and therefore eligible for replacement, instead of repair.
As AN reported in July 2009, the decision was seen as vital to advancing a Mid-City biomedical development plan that would place the new Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital (already funded by Congress) alongside a new LSU medical center to be built with state funds, revenue bonds, and FEMA’s compensation for Charity, formerly the school’s teaching hospital. Preservationists argued that the plan would destroy the iconic art deco hospital and a slew of historic structures, and pushed their ideas for an all-out retrofit of the building.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who applauded the panel’s decision, said $40 million in Community Block Grant money has already been set aside to find a new use for Charity—but with the National Trust still disputing the Mid-City development plans on environmental grounds, New Orleans is far from getting the medical care it needs.