Normally neighborhood groups support the demolition of abandoned buildings. However, last Monday representatives from the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization spoke against the demolition of the old Lindy Boggs Medical Center.
Reaction has been mixed. Here’s a typical comment from the story on nola.com:
Great, a bunch of boneheads that want to look important attempt to stop the demolition of a disgusting flooded out hospital. Get a life losers.
Or, as Anthony put it (in much more reasonable and civil terms):
And just how long are we prepared to live with these abandoned buildings? Months, years, decades?
And that’s exactly the question I asked in advance of the hearing before the Housing Conservation District Review Committee. This wasn’t an easy call. But ultimately I felt that opposition to the demolition was the correct stance for the neighborhood organization to take.
Why? Well, it’s like this. The company that wants to do the tear-down is Victory Real Estate Investments. We have been trying to contact them for the last seven months, with zero success. We want to know what their plans might be for that site — but they’re not talking.
The HCDRC’s own rules state that redevelopment plans must be submitted before demolitions are approved, but as we know, the HCDRC is broken beyond belief. (They illegally approved a demolition in our neighborhood the same day.)
Furthermore, rumors abound that public funds will be used for the demolition, rumors which were fueled by comments Victory’s representative made at Monday’s hearing. Yet we’ve been unable to ascertain what funds these might be, and have even received stark denials from some quarters. The rumor is $10 million via the Office of Recovery Managment. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but ORM won’t answer our queries.
Why should an arguably serviceable building be knocked down on the public dime without the public having some say?
Also, we’ve got a lot of questions about the demolition itself that no one will address. This would be a fairly massive project. We want to be assured that it will be conducted in an environmentally responsible fashion and that measures will be taken to protect properties across the street and preserve some quality of life for residents of the surrounding area.
Finally, to address the legitimate concern Anthony gave voice to: How long are we willing to live next to abandoned and blighted property? Let me put this in my personal perspective. I’m living next door to a house which still hasn’t been gutted since the flood. Around the corner on our block is an abandoned grocery that has never been cleaned out. We’ve got kids and seniors living cheek-by-jowl with blight. So a fenced building that sits on its own block with no residences isn’t really at the top of my list. I’ve been putting up with far worse.
To be perfectly accurate, we did not oppose the demolition per se. We asked for a 30-day deferral to allow time for Victory to meet with the neighborhood and discuss their redevelopment plans and details of the demolition. Reasonable, no? The HCDRC met us half-way: They deferred for 15 days.
So now Victory has chance to establish some trust with the neighborhood. That’s some fat chance. At the hearing, they denied ever having heard from us over the past seven months of unreturned phone calls. How very disrespectful! We invited them to come to our community meeting last night. They didn’t. We said we’d be ready to meet anytime, anywhere. Nothing so far.
We don’t believe they will meet with us. We have good reason to believe the fix is in, so to speak, and that the HCDRC will approve this demolition regardless of how much community opposition is brought to bear.
Last night Shelley Midura spoke at our community meeting. I don’t have a high regard for most of our local politicians, but I do respect Shelley. Nonetheless I was disheartened and taken aback by her tone. She seemed to say that the demolition would indeed be approved and we just need to trust her and Stacey Head to do the right thing.
The problem is that, given Victory’s portfolio and secrecy, it’s very hard to have any level of trust. Add in the fact that Victory burned us before (remember Movie Pitchers?) and trust would seem to be a very foolish attitude indeed.
C’mon, Victory, quit playing it so close to the vest. Meet with the neighborhood. Tell us what you have in mind. We want and need economic development in our neighborhood. Work with us to get to “yes.”