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City issues RFP to demolish and/or restore World Trade Center

22nd January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Fifteen years after local architect Stanley Muller saw his $5 million bid to turn the World Trade Center Building into a five-star Peabody Hotel rejected in favor of a politically connected insider—offering a smaller sum and a less ambitious plan—the city acknowledged in a RFP last week that a developer may just have to demolish the X-shaped building on the Missis­sippi.

Properly speaking, the Request for Proposals seeks ways to redevelop the 1967 era modernist structure, or to rip it down in favor of a new building on the Riverfront’s Spanish Plaza.

However, Mayor Mitch Landrieu left little doubt as to his thought process a year ago when the city signed a $2.3 million deal to acquire back the property from the WTC corporation. “I mean if it was up to me, I would tear it down.”

“We’ve tried a couple different hotels,” Landrieu argued to WWL-TV. “That building doesn’t really work for it. That building has served its useful purpose. And I hope the future of the city involves an open space that invites other things that ties the river completely together.”

Most of the developers who expressed interest in the current RFP seemed to agree. Only Pres Kabicoff of HRI has openly expressed any interest in the possibility of utilizing Historic Resto­ration Tax Credits to attempt a redevelopment of the property, and even the specialist in bringing old buildings back to life admitted the former International Trade Mart would be “inefficient for renovation.”

Moreover, a very real possibility exists, City Hall insiders admitted, that the city may have to pay for the building’s demolition as well as the $2.3 million already incurred to buy out the WTC contract. As one person close to the mayor put it on the promise of anonymity, “Most developers don’t want to be in the demolition business, no matter how great the location. We have had proposals to buy the open land for $7 million . But, to acquire the property as it is, no one has even offered $3 million.”

The World Trade Center Complex sits upon one of the choicest pieces of real estate in New Orleans, overlooking the river and sitting at the apex of the city’s main streets of Canal and Poydras. Once called the International Trade Mart, the city constructed the skyscraper in 1967 as a vehicle to draw and develop international trade and high-paying jobs.

By the mid-1990s, though, the building sat half-empty. The bustling office complex had dwindled into see-through floors with just a few international consulates and the city’s famous Plimsoll Club remaining.

In the corresponding decade and a half, numerous foreign governments closed their local consulates and most of the remainder moved out of the deteriorating building. The Plimsoll Club gave up its panoramic perch, moving to the nearby Canal Place, closely followed by the WTC’s 3,000 square feet of office space.

Despite the questions of tax liens, New Orleans’ Single Assessor Erroll Williams noted to this newspaper that the mayor may very well be on the right track, in potentially advocating demolition, “It is a question of the condition of the building. Is it more cost-effective to rip it down and start over or to renovate it?”

In 90 days, developers will answer that question, when the RFPs are due back to City Hall. That is, if any wish to embrace the added cost of demolition at all.

This article was originally published in the January 14, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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