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The WTC Hotel 20 years too late

26th June 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Just shy of 20 years ago, this newspaper featured an article highlighting the “Two Visions” for the restoration of the increasingly decrepit World Trade Center, and its transformation into a hotel.

Architect Stanley Muller had submitted a proposal to convert the entire structure, excepting two floors, into a luxury Peabody Hotel. His design was at odds with vision of the then-World Trade Center board and its director, the late-Gene Schreiber, who wished to retrofit just half of the building into hotel rooms, leaving the remainder available for foreign consulates and other international trade commercial space. World-Trade-Center---Four-S

Muller argued that the massive cost of the conversion required that all but a few of the floors of the 1960s era riverfront skyscraper had to be made into hotel-residential rentals or the entire project of building a hotel was financially unfeasible. Every developer who would try, would fail, the architect prophesied, but the returns would never equal the costs.

He also added the unpopular truth that New Orleans was losing its status as a trade hub, so many of the consulates were likely to close in the coming years. He offered to alter his proposal to give the WTC three floors in addition to the Plimsoll lunch club near the top, but his design was rejected. Politically connected developer Larry Sisung received the contract to build a Holliday Inn in half the property, and repeatedly failed to find financing.

Muller, who died just a few years later, predicted to the author , “If they [the WTC] keep this [course of action] up, we’ll still be talking about building a hotel 20 years from now.”

And so we are. The building increasingly emptied as the years passed. The World Trade Center board eventually voted to abandon the property, moving the Plimsoll Club and the WTC offices to Canal Place next door. Post-Katrina, less than a decade after Muller’s prediction, the building stood as an empty shell, and the city underwent a years-long process to convert the entire structure into a hotel. The final design, scheduled to redevelop the 33-story skyscraper into a Four Seasons hotel with 395 rooms and 80 luxury hotel-serviced condos stands as remarkably similar to Miller’s original design for the New Orleans Riverfront Peabody.

From the restaurant and outdoor dining court on the first floor to the 35,000 square feet of meeting space to the observation deck to the elevated entrances to Spanish Plaza to the newly constructed wings flanking the structure, it could be Muller’s design.

Carpenter & Co. of Cambridge, Massachusetts joined with Crescent City firm Woodward Interests to redevelop the once dubbed ‘International Trade Mart’ into the proposed Four Seasons hotel. The developers say construction will commence by November.

The revolving cocktail lounge called Top of the Mart which brings back so many fond romantic memories for locals will not return, but public access to that floor will. For the former observation deck and maritime museum below, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates has partnered with Tulane University professor Lawrence Powell to create a cultural exhibit. Access will still come to both floors from the glass open express elevator ascending to floors 31-33 from the lobby.

This article originally published in the June 26, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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