Treasurer to Jindal administration: Let next governor decide what to do with Charity Hospital



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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Treasurer John Kennedy wants Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration to leave any planning about the future of the shuttered, historic Charity Hospital in New Orleans to Louisiana's next governor and lawmakers.

Kennedy said Monday that the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged hospital, an Art Deco landmark built in the 1930s, is a valuable state asset. He said Jindal, who has fewer than five months left in office, shouldn't make quick decisions on his own about possibly selling the facility.

"I don't want to see this administration do this, make a deal with somebody in the private sector going out the door. It's too important," Kennedy, a Republican, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

A new governor and new state Legislature will be elected this fall and take office in January. Jindal, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, is term-limited.

The governor's Division of Administration sought ideas for redeveloping the hospital in downtown New Orleans, and five groups submitted proposals last month. But the administration says no specific timeline has been set for finding a use for the hospital, which has been closed since it was damaged by Katrina a decade ago.

Options could include selling the property, which includes multiple structures and a million square feet of space, or leasing it through a public-private partnership, according to Mark Moses, director of Jindal's Office of Facility Planning and Control.

"The Division is not required to choose any of the responses if they do not meet with what we feel is best for New Orleans and the state," Moses said in a statement.

He said the Jindal administration is pulling together an evaluation committee with representatives of his office, LSU, the city of New Orleans, the House and the Senate. He said he expects the committee to make a recommendation within the next six weeks.

Kennedy wanted the hospital repaired after Katrina, but state leaders instead decided to build a new, $1.1 billion teaching and research hospital nearby. LSU ran Charity, but the Jindal administration turned over management of the new University Medical Center to a private hospital operator.

The old Charity Hospital has been left unused, with the state spending about $2.4 million a year on insurance, security guards and upkeep. At one point, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu talked about turning the hospital site into a new City Hall, but that idea stalled.

"When you deal with an asset of that size, it's hugely important to New Orleans. It's hugely important to the taxpayers, and I just don't like the feel of the way this thing's going," Kennedy said.

The proposals submitted in response to the Jindal administration request vary widely.

One New Orleans based company offered to pay $30 million for the Charity Hospital site and redesign it to house apartments, shopping, restaurants and retail services, along with a biomedical training facility. Two other companies are proposing mixed-use facilities with apartments, retail and office space, either by leasing the property from the state or buying it.

A mental health advocacy group wants to make the site a mental health facility, though it's unclear how that renovation would be financed. The University of North Carolina School of Government proposed to help the state find a redevelopment partner.

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