It stands for the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District and it represents a state-empowered special tax district comprised of a host of public and private partners including the Downtown Development District and the Regional Planning Commission. It was officially created by the State of Louisiana in 2005 to help attract businesses associated with the biomedical industry to New Orleans. SaveCharityHospital.com worked to shed some light on the plans of this special body, in particular it relates the hospital controversy and to the New Orleans Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance being prepared by Goody Clancy. Even more specifically, we wondered how a potential GNOBEDD master plan might interact with the Goody Clancy plan for District 4, which includes Lower Mid-City, the proposed LSU/VA medical complex footprint, Mid-City, Faubourg Treme, and parts of the St. Bernard area.
From our summary of Planning District 4's meeting with Goody Clancy planners:
At one point, planners invited GNOBEDD President and CEO James P. McNamara to address the crowd. He spoke briefly about what the district was and pushed back against the assertion that GNOBEDD was empowered to create its own land use master plan. However, it's unclear whether or not he was entirely forthcoming. According to the special powers clauses attached to the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District Act passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2005, GNOBEDD has the legal authority "to develop and implement a master plan for the district related to biosciences... in coordination with the Louisiana Board of Regents with respect to public higher educational institutions." Also, according to a document obtained from GNOBEDD, a message signed by McNamara says in quite explicit terms, "GNOBEDD's next course of business is a comprehensive 25 year master plan and land use study for the entire GNOBEDD area that will transition into the City of New Orleans new Master Plan." Though Mr. McNamara stayed for the whole meeting and was available to speak with on an individual basis, planners did not allow attendees to ask follow-up questions to him in front of the whole audience.
Recent actions at the State Legislature in Baton Rouge indicate that McNamara's words to assure residents of Mid-City may have been even less candid than previously thought.
On April 28th, Speaker Pro-Tem Karen Carter Peterson brought a bill for a $1 tax increase on tobacco products before the House Ways and Means Committee. The extra tax revenue would have gone toward a host of health care related initiatives but was shot down by the Committee. But before the vote took place, Rep. Peterson introduced a last minute amendment* on the floor of the House that offered an earmark that allocates $0.03 out of every dollar in tobacco tax revenue to GNOBEDD, noting that "years ago, I authored the bill to create that district." When it became clear that the bill would be defeated, Peterson pulled the amendment and we have not been able to obtain a text copy through her office.
More recently, on May 6th, Rep. Peterson reintroduced a new version of the tobacco tax, House Bill 889. This time, the funding for GNOBEDD is in text of the bill. It's the same sort of thing. The $1 tax on each tobacco purchase would go into a special Louisiana Healthy Families Fund, which would then pay out percentages to different health care initiatives. GNOBEDD would again get 3% under HB889. There is however, one difference between the versions of the bill as it relates to GNOBEDD.
Three percent of the monies in the fund shall be used solely by the Lousiana State University Board of Supervisors to provide funding for the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District. (Emphasis added)
Thus, GNOBEDD's reoccurring funding stream is controlled by LSU, raising new questions about GNOBEDD's ability to operate independently of one of the main beneficiaries of biosciences development around any new hospital in or near downtown New Orleans.
One reason Rep. Peterson been such an advocate for GNOBEDD hinges on her relationship with GNOBEDD CEO James P. McNamara, a longtime political operative and real estate businessman.
McNamara came to prominence in the 1980s through his association with the political organization Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), which was lead by Karen Carter Peterson's father, Ken Carter. McNamara helped lead Carter's victorious campaign for District 1 Tax Assessor, which includes New Orleans' Central Business District. McNamara was a real estate consultant in the area at the time. When Carter ran for Mayor in 1994, McNamara directed his campaign.
Ken Carter remains the registered agent of BOLD today. Rep. Karen Carter Peterson owes a significant degree of her success as a legislator to the support provided by that organization.
Scientific Research, Economic Development, The Hospitals, And The Master Plan
SaveCharityHospital.com supports the goal of attracting biosciences businesses and jobs to New Orleans. We similarly support Rep. Peterson's attempts to provide reoccurring funding for public health during this current legislative session. We believe that New Orleans can – and should – be a great center for health care services and innovation.
Our quarrel centers on the flawed process and dangerous implications of the current LSU/VA proposal. What is so disconcerting about Rep. Peterson's action on behalf of GNOBEDD is the degree to which the worthy concept of biosciences development has now been unnecessarily – but intentionally – tangled in to LSU's unworthy planning vision for New Orleans, instead of that which is currently being put together by the citizens themselves.
These initiatives are not incongruous with our goal of building a state-of-the-art hospital in the facade of historic Charity instead of the expensive, destructive, and ill-conceived sprawl development proposed by LSU. In fact, not only do we believe that a renewed Charity Hospital would greatly benefit from the coordination that might be provided by GNOBEDD but we believe that a renewed Charity Hospital would provide a fantastic boon to GNOBEDD, providing a fledgling industry with a unique state-of-the-art anchor that can only be built in the world's most unique city. Instead of blindly replicating the models of Birmingham and Houston, some forward-thinking would truly set us apart.
After a contentious campaign, New Orleanians voted to ratify an amendment to the city charter change that would give a master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance the rule of law because the promise of bringing major development decisions like these out from under the smokey shadows of a corrupt political tradition and into the light of day.
Goody Clancy, the firm hired to create the new Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance under the guidance of citizen imput and participation has not evaluated the hospital proposal, nor has it even made mention of the existence of GNOBEDD. That an evaluation of GNOBEDD and the hospital proposals were left out of their scope of work is deeply troubling, not just for the credibility of the final draft of their plan, but because it reinforces the notion that the proposed LSU/VA development represents a land grab instead of a smart, sustainable, and deliverable health care institution.
*See Rep. Peterson's testimony 2 hours and 2 minutes into testimony to Ways and Means Committee hearing on April 28th, it can be downloaded here.