Neighborhood opposition slows expansion of Children's Hospital
by Paul Murphy / WWL-TV Eyewitness News
Posted on March 10, 2010 at 5:21 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Organizers of the "Save Audubon Park" campaign say there are close to 1000 yard signs across the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, expressing strong opposition to a move to expand Children's Hospital.

According to the hospital's plan, new acute care beds and outpatient clinics would be built where tennis courts and ball fields now exist, where Tchoupitoulas Street meets the park.

"It's just not appropriate to take four or five acres away from the kids that practice soccer and soccer on Avenger Field and the hundreds of people, if not thousands or hours a week of tennis that's played here over at the tennis courts.

Children's Hospital VP of Marketing Brian Landry said the hospital is attempting to grow in harmony with the community. Landry said the site is zoned for medical services.

"What nobler a purpose can that land be used than for that land be used to provide lifesaving care for children?" said Landry.

The Audubon Park Commission would lease the land to the hospital for 99 years. The park's CEO Ron Forman said the board is slowing down the project to address the neighborhood's concerns.

"The key issues, one, health care for children, exactly what they are going to provide with the additional health care, and secondly, neighborhood issues dealing with parking, traffic and other issues," said Forman. "Those issues will be discussed by our board."

The tennis courts would move to the Riverview section of the park also known as the Fly. Brian Kaplan, who manages the courts, said that's not a good idea.

"The ingress and egress is a real problem, getting people in and out of that area," said Kaplan. "The wind factor for tennis players is not good. It's just going to be awful crowded up there with the balls fields and the soccer fields and parking could be a problem, too."

Neighbors say the recently shuttered New Orleans Adolescent Hospital property across the street from Children's would be a better site for the expansion. The hospital says they have tried repeatedly to buy the land, but the state won't sell it.

"Our efforts have been unsuccessful, up until now," said Landry.

The hospital hoped to begin construction on the expansion by the end of the year. The project has now been pushed back into next year at the earliest.

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