Four Seasons investors finalize World Trade Center deal in New Orleans

Posted on: September 15 2015 | Posted in: Latest News

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

A bevy of investors in the proposed Four Seasons at the World Trade Center inked agreements Tuesday (Sept. 15) for one of the priciest real estate deals in New Orleans history, clearing the way for the $360 million project to begin construction early next year.

"Today means that we have the money to proceed with this project -- lined up, committed, invested in the deal," said lead developer Richard Friedman of Carpenter & Co. at a ceremony in the granite-floored lobby of the building. "This is a go. No longer the vacant World Trade Center, but the new Four Seasons five-star hotel and residences."

The vacant, 33-story office building on the Mississippi riverfront is expected to be renovated into a 350-room luxury hotel and 76 condos. The Four Seasons development team won a 99-year lease of the city-owned building in March, beating out 10 competitors vying for the project. 

"The city of New Orleans has never in our history -- not ever -- seen a group of investors like this that represent the breadth of the best developers in the world, that have come to our city because they think we're valuable, not as a gift but because they think they can actually make money," Mayor Mitch Landrieu told a crowd of dignitaries at the ceremony. "Now that is a transformative notion for the city of New Orleans."

The investors who signed partnership agreements on Tuesday included Cascade Investments, affiliated with Microsoft founder Bill Gates; the Juffali family of Saudi Arabia; Henry Coaxum, founder of Coaxum Enterprises, which includes New Orleans area McDonald's franchises; and Paul Flower, Woodward Design+Build president and CEO, whose company is co-developer.

Other investors are: Lee Jackson, president and CEO of Jackson Offshore Operators; Sherry Marcus Leventhal, Tulane University board vice chair; Bob Merrick, CEO and chairman of Latter & Blum; and Earl Robinson, a partner in private equity firm RLMcCall Capital. 

Friedman declined to say exactly how much each equity partner is putting into the project. Construction is slated to begin in the first quarter of next year. The hotel is scheduled to open in early 2018.

The 1960s era landmark sits on a prime piece of property, thought to be key to spurring more public access to the downtown riverfront.

Read a guide to the Four Seasons plan here.

The developers are pressing ahead despite a lawsuit filed by one of the group's competitors in the city's selection process. Two Canal Street Investors, which proposed a $228 million Hotel Alessandra and apartments, argues its offer was the most lucrative for the city, including a $65 million upfront payment, and it should have been selected under public leasing law. 

Instead, the group claims, the New Orleans Building Corp. and the city's consultants played behind-the-scenes favorites in picking Four Seasons.

In response, lawyers for the New Orleans Building Corp. said the public benefit corporation has "broad discretion regarding the method and criteria used to select a lessee in order to maximize the benefits to the public."

On Tuesday, Friedman said the lawsuit is "frivolous" and won't slow down the development.

J. Allen Smith, Four Seasons president and CEO, told the crowd many people have asked for the hotelier to move into New Orleans over the years.

"It may have taken a while but we're finally in the position where we have the right partners, the right building, obviously tremendous support from the city and the community, and this is the right opportunity for us," Smith said.