So I went to that meeting last Monday night, the scoping meeting where the Veteran’s Administration sought public input on the possibility of locating their regional medical center at the old Lindy Boggs site. I won’t rehash the background details, since I already wrote about that last week. Instead I just wanted to record a few notes about what went on at the meeting before it’s completely faded from my mind.
Before the public comment, a number of officials spoke, but the person who made the biggest impression on me was Ed Blakely, the Recovery Czar. I was really taken aback by his comments. He basically said if the Lindy Boggs site was chosen, the VA would get no help from the City of New Orleans. His office will provide assistance for one site only: the “preferred site” in lower Mid-City. In other words, the City will help take land through eminent domain and raze acres of historic neighborhood — but won’t provide any assistance if the VA decides to build on the site of an old hospital. I found that strange, to say the least. Why would the City be so adamant about this? Should the Recovery Czar be bending over backward to help the VA Medical Center get built at the best possible site in Orleans Parish, regardless of any preconceived notions about where that site might be?
When the public comment section began, I saw essentially two camps: suits and citizens. All the suits spoke about the value of “synergy,” justifying the need to build in lower Mid-City next to the planned LSU Medical Center. All the citizens said, build it at Lindy Boggs. It was really quite dramatic.
I also heard a couple veterans speak. (Imagine that.) They just want the damn thing built as quickly as possible so they can get some decent medical care. Building at Lindy Boggs would seem to be the quickest route, since they’d be dealing with a single property owner, no need to mess with eminent domain, etc.
I really didn’t want to go to that meeting in the first place, but I attended out of a sense of civic duty. I kind of suspected the fix was already in, and this was all a charade. Much of what I saw there bore that out. Yet since then, I’ve heard that the VA really is considering all the possibilities. So I will be following this issue with great interest.