Big Vision for the Big Easy
U3 continues to help Tulane University visualize and implement key strategies and investments to revitalize their long neglected downtown health sciences campus.
New Orleans’ Tulane University is one of the most prestigious and well-regarded institutions of higher learning in the country, drawing students from around the country to its main campus in the city’s bucolic and historic Uptown neighborhood. Tulane’s health sciences campus, located in the downtown area, has long been treated as a silo of towers with no cohesive identity or strategy. With a landlocked Uptown, Tulane’s future lives in its city’s history – specifically, in its downtown campus anchored by the historic Charity Hospital.
Charity was founded in 1736 and was one of two teaching hospitals of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (MCLNO). Charity is one million square feet, making it one of the largest properties in the New Orleans metropolitan area, particularly in the core of its downtown. In September 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and caused irreparable damage to the hospital. The Governor declared it unable to reopen shortly after the storm, and it has been vacant ever since. As one of the city’s most venerable but underutilized assets, Tulane’s commitment to anchor the redevelopment will breathe new life and vitality into this important iconic structure.
In 2018, Tulane’s leadership made the decision to consider leasing and renovating over 340k square feet in Charity, and invited U3 Advisors to guide this process. Additional property assets, including a hotel at 1315 Gravier and Duncan Plaza, one of downtown’s most significant public parks, were also included in a comprehensive evaluation by U3. Tulane’s vision is to create a national destination for health science research and education that could accommodate their growing enrollment, while contributing meaningfully to the ongoing revitalization of New Orleans’ core city.
U3’s insights helped Tulane recognize that a true downtown campus would have to function as more than a series of buildings: the connectivity and wayfinding, street-level activation, public realm improvements, and strategically curated tenant mix would all need to be considered in order for Tulane’s investment to realize its full potential as a world-renowned destination for medical education and training. As part of their engagement, U3 facilitated learning trips for Tulane’s leadership to draw inspiration from similar center city campuses in Memphis, Detroit, and Philadelphia.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted campus life for universities everywhere and Tulane had to spend much of 2020 devising safe and healthy protocols for students and teachers. The urgency behind the university’s plans for downtown did not abate, however, and U3 pivoted to a day to day management role to keep the projects moving forward. The firm’s deep competencies in construction management, financial modeling, lease negotiations, and design team selection were utilized to ensure that Tulane had the capacity to manage their COVID response while maintaining momentum toward the future.
With 1315 Gravier residential units open and retail spaces under construction, the Charity lease signed, and key parcels identified and prioritized for acquisition, Tulane’s strategic role in the district is expanding. As the University’s real estate needs and the market around the downtown campus evolve, U3 continues to guide Tulane in establishing priorities for real estate initiatives and capital projects while considering the appropriate forms of development, financing, ownership, and occupancy. This prioritization will consider the economic development, community, and placemaking implications of Tulane’s leadership role and increasing presence in downtown.