November 20 2014 | Latest NewsBY JAQUETTA WHITE, The Advocate
The city will have its pick of nearly a dozen proposals from local and national developers as it tries once again to redevelop the long-vacant former World Trade Center building at the foot of Canal Street.
A call for qualified applicants to turn the building into a “first-class commercial and/or mixed-use project” drew 11 responses by last week’s deadline, including one from the same team that was picked to develop the building last year after a previous request for proposals. The city subsequently ended negotiations with that team after failing to come to an agreement with the developers on the building’s value.
The latest proposals were made public Wednesday.
All of the proposals present a plan for a hotel or a combined hotel and apartments. The submissions come from well-known national hotel brands such as Four Seasons and Hard Rock as well as from familiar local developers, including HRI Properties, the Berger Co. and Woodward Design + Build.
The riverfront property at 2 Canal St. is widely considered to be one of the most valuable sites in New Orleans, but the city has struggled for years to find someone to redevelop the empty 1960s building, with repeated efforts coming to naught.
The most recent attempt ended in failure in April when the team of Gatehouse Capital and Provident Realty, which a city committee selected to transform the 33-story building into a W Hotel and apartments, could not agree on financial terms with the New Orleans Building Corp., the city agency that acts as the building’s landlord.
Gatehouse and Provident had beaten out two other proposals to win the exclusive right to negotiate a lease agreement for the site with the city. Members of the team that came in second during that round also have submitted a new proposal.
The fact that this call for ideas has brought more plans to the table, including from larger and more well-known brands than those who participated in the last round, says that investors recognize the site’s value, Canal Street Development Corp. Executive Director Cindy Connick said.
“We’re more than pleased about the quality and the number of respondents to the (request for qualifications),” Connick said. “I think it’s just an indication that New Orleans is a great place for investment dollars.”
Connick said the abundance of plans to turn the former office building into a hotel and residential units reflects the market demand for attractions along the riverfront.
Unlike in 2012, when the city last sought development proposals for the site, this time only plans to redevelop the existing building were requested. Two years ago, the city imposed “no limitations as to the type of redevelopment or use of the space” and specifically welcomed demolition of the 1960s office tower as an option. A consortium of local tourist organizations and leaders proposed demolishing the building, but their plan was rejected.
The building has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Although listing on the register does not prevent demolition or place any restrictions or encumbrances on a property’s owners, it does make any income generated by the historic building eligible for certain tax incentives.
The new redevelopment plans, which must be privately financed, will be evaluated on the idea’s merit, the experience of the development team and its financial capability.
A selection committee is expected to release a “short list” of developers on Dec. 15. Those proposers then will have until Feb. 16 to submit more extensive proposals that include detailed drawings, cost projections, timelines and proposed payments to the city. Those ideas also will be presented in-person to the selection committee. The composition of the selection committee, including the number of members, has yet to be decided.
The committee will be able to select more than one project for the city to begin negotiating with, so that developers can be pitted directly against each other in the negotiation process. The city expects to select a winner by March 23, according to the initial request for qualifications.
The winning developer will enter into a lease agreement with the city for up to 99 years.