Yesterday, the Sunday Edition of the Times-Picayune featured a devastating op-ed by Mickey Weiser, owner of Weiser Securities in Lower Mid-City. A few days before that, on Friday evening, Dennis Woltering of WWLTV got out into the neighborhood and spoke to Lower Mid-City homeowners about living in limbo while waiting for LSU/VA wrecking balls.
The two reports underscore the importance of something like House Bill 780 which would prohibited state seizure of private lands in the proposed LSU medical center footprint in Lower Mid-City until LSU can prove it has a legitimate plan to pay for the completion of their proposed project. HB 780 passed the State House overwhelmingly before getting tabled by the Senate Education Committee. Its chances for revival and passage grow increasingly remote as the legislative session in Baton Rouge comes to a close.
Mickey Weiser traveled on multiple occasions to Baton Rouge to testify for HB 780. On Sunday, he explained why it was so important to him and why he's grown so frustrated by LSU's failure to move the project forward and the apparent cowardice of our elected leadership to call them out on it.
I own a multimillion dollar business, with thousands of employees, headquartered in our building at 1900 Canal St. That's in the 37-acre site that LSU has targeted for expropriation to build a $1.2 billion hospital in Lower Mid City.
My building flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I could have relocated my business anywhere and would have been welcomed with open arms. But I chose to do the right thing -- although apparently not necessarily the smart thing. I came back; I rebuilt. This is the building and location I had meticulously chosen; this is where I wanted to stay.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the newspaper one day and read that LSU and the powers-that-be had decided to take my property. I asked myself, why did I come back here? This state, and this city, clearly think I am disposable.
Since that shock, it has become obvious that LSU doesn't have the money to build this $1.2 billion hospital or even a reasonable plan to raise the money.
My worst nightmare is that the $300 million already allocated for this project by the state will allow LSU to do the expropriations and demolish this historic neighborhood and that the funds to actually build the hospital are nowhere to be found in this economy. What we will then have is a 37-acre vacant lot on Canal Street.
That echoes the grievances homeowner Gail Ruth expressed to WWL's Dennis Woltering:
"I think people are getting screwed."
"You can't make any more improvements or renovations because you don't want to waste any money if they're going to tear down your house."
Another homeowner, Wallace Thurmond, who has lived in Lower Mid-City for 78 years, told Woltering,
"I gotta wait for them to take this house away from me to get money to go find another house. I don't think that's right."
We don't think so either. Especially since it's not clear that this medical complex will ever be built.
At least with respect to the LSU portion of the proposed impact area in Lower Mid-City, somebody was paying attention to the impending injustice. the House of Representatives was paying attention and passed HB 780 94-2 over the objections of pro-LSU and Jindal administration forces.
You have to ask -- why are LSU and the State Office of Facility Planning so afraid of this bill? This bill should be embraced by LSU and any reasonable and thoughtful legislator. Wouldn't having a valid, up-to-date financing plan help speed the process? Who builds property or opens a business without clear and present funding? That's Business 101.
I should know; I took the course at LSU.
Members of the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, with the exception of Ville Platte's Eric LaFleur, were also apparently playing hooky when class was in session.