blue decorative lighting on two urban buildings, view looking up

Things Are Looking Up Downtown

Tulane’s expanding downtown campus is the result of the vision of President Michael A. Fitts, who never doubted the potential of the area to become a major hub for research, innovation and medicine.

When Tulane University President Michael A. Fitts was considering locations for the ending of his annual State of the University video, he wanted to speak from the rooftop of Tulane School of Medicine’s Lasalle Garage, a vantage point that captured Charity Hospital, on Tulane Avenue, in the background.

Though abandoned since 2005 when flooding from Hurricane Katrina left it a shambled, uninhabitable mess, Fitts couldn’t think of a more appropriate site to share his vision of the future — a vibrant downtown campus that will offer an unprecedented opportunity for Tulane to continue to grow its national standing as a research and innovation powerhouse while attracting and nurturing biotech business and discovery in New Orleans and the surrounding region. 

The Charity building is the catalyst for the historic transformation of Tulane’s downtown campus, which among other things, will build on Tulane’s life-changing and lifesaving biomedical and academic research mission; use innovation to create a more resilient, reimagined and economically diversified New Orleans and create a community that attracts researchers and scholars as new residents along with the city’s annual flock of tourists. 

“Cities across the nation have been transformed by the presence of a major national research university in their communities,” Fitts said. “With a planned $600 million dollar investment downtown and the addition of 2,300 direct jobs for members of the New Orleans community, this is the destiny of Tulane and the city we call home.”

collage with glass doors of Innovation Institute and Chapter IV in the Thirteen15 Building; police officer; gym interior
With the opening of the Tulane University Innovation Institute and Chapter IV in the Thirteen15 Building, along with the addition of a TUPD station and Tulane Fitness Center to Deming Pavilion, the momentum downtown has just begun.

Tulane sealed the deal to become the core tenant of Charity in November 2021. Under the agreement, Tulane and developers will transform Charity into a mixed-use complex with apartments, retail and educational and clinical space, all anchored by Tulane’s academic and research presence. Through a long-term lease, Tulane will initially occupy 400,000 square feet, close to half of the building’s available space. Among its occupants will be the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the School of Medicine and the Tulane University Innovation Institute. Demolition and abatement are expected to begin in 2024, with Tulane occupying its portion of the space in 2027. 

Fitts always saw the potential of the downtown campus to become a major hub for research, innovation and medicine. It was one of his goals when he became Tulane’s 15th president in 2014, and watching it happen before his eyes has been both gratifying and inspiring.  

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform New Orleans into a center of biotech innovation that will reap huge economic benefits for our region while creating the latest advances in medicines, diagnosis and outcomes for individuals throughout the world,” Fitts said. “This is a major part of what makes me so excited for the future of Tulane.”

Fitts has been traveling the city and state, touting the redevelopment to groups like the Downtown Development District and government leaders. In his presentations, he shares the example of Pittsburgh, which has seen its downtown health sciences district explode due to major investments by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. While the move into Charity is several years in the future, the transformation of the downtown campus is well underway. In 2021, Tulane took over the old Warwick Hotel on Gravier Street, converting it into an apartment building for students, staff, faculty, postdocs, residents, researchers and other Tulane affiliates. The Thirteen15 building is also home to the Innovation Institute and Chapter IV, a restaurant run by Chef Edgar “Dook” Chase, grandson of cooking legend Leah Chase. Nearby, on the ground floor of the Deming Pavilion, Tulane invested in a new police station and an 11,000-square-foot Tulane Fitness Center (TU Fit).

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform New Orleans into a center of biotech innovation that will reap huge economic benefits for our region while creating the latest advances in medicines, diagnosis and outcomes for individuals throughout the world.”

Michael A. Fitts, Tulane University President

This fall, the area underwent a major landscaping and streetscaping effort, thanks to a multi-million dollar fund established by longtime donor and Board of Tulane Chair Carol Lavin Bernick. The gift is designed to enliven and unify the downtown campus with trees, plants, benches, lighting and other improvements. The project includes, pending City Council approval, converting South Liberty Street into a pedestrian-only walkway. 

“We’re working to create an environment that people not only want to work in but to live in and play in,” said Kimberly Gramm, the David and Marion Mussafer Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer. “Creating a thriving downtown is something other cities with a rise of innovation districts have accomplished.” Gramm is director of the Tulane University Innovation Institute, which serves as a combined technology and startup accelerator for university faculty, researchers, staff and students as well as community members. She said Tulane’s focus on supporting innovation has positive implications for the local economy and demonstrates a commitment to the region’s growth while creating opportunity.

“Overall, it’s been very exciting and continues to be,” Gramm said. “People are encouraged by our presence and the big bold vision that President Fitts has set out for us to accomplish. I think that it’s very special when leadership agrees that innovation is an important and significant area to champion within a university.”

Gramm and her team will eventually move to Charity — one of the many Tulane projects on the horizon in the heart of downtown. Tulane owns or leases 23 properties in the city’s core, totaling 4.2 million square feet. Several are in line for major renovations, including Hutchinson Memorial Building, the School of Medicine’s academic headquarters. Plans call for a complete redo of the building’s seventh floor, including research lab space, support labs, offices and conference spaces. The project will provide room for 20 new research principal investigators and other research personnel.

collage of downtown buildings with green lighting and landscaping in blue planters
Pressure washing and new uplighting are brightening the building facades, while colorful planters, landscaping and benches will add life to the streetscape. As plans move forward with redeveloping the Charity Hospital building, the future is looking up for downtown New Orleans.

Tulane Medical Center will also undergo a major renovation, once hospital services are shifted to East Jefferson General Hospital and University Medical Center through a new partnership with LCMC Health. The building will be converted into clinical, research and educational space, house a new nursing program expected to produce more than 200 nurses annually and house retail outlets and, potentially, startup companies. 

As Tulane’s chief operating officer, a position which oversees finance, facilities management, capital planning and real estate, Patrick Norton is involved in the downtown transformation on a day-to-day basis. In fact, his office on the eighth floor of 1555 Poydras Street has a view of Charity, a daily reminder of his own vision of the future. 

“All you have to do is close your eyes and imagine a Charity that will be power-washed and gleaming, with cranes in the sky and workers turning the building into the centerpiece of Tulane’s downtown campus. Not only is this great for Tulane but it’s great for the city. It’s great for the region.”