N.O. to explore three options for future of World Trade Center

Demolition or renovation are the options the city has to consider when it comes to the future of the World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street.

Three respondents answered a recent request for proposals from city leaders about what to do with the aging and vacant tower built on what some describe as one of the most valuable pieces of land in New Orleans. The request for proposals comes as the city looks to find a way to get the building or land back into commerce.

Two of the proposals call for rehabbing the 1960s-era tower and incorporating a hotel and luxury apartments into the building.

The most ambitious proposal calls for the building to be demolished and a signature structure, along the lines of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to be built in its place as part of a new riverfront park and expansion of the Morial Convention Center.

The city hopes to have any changes made in time for New Orleans’ tricentennial in 2018.

The plan to tear down the WTC has been proposed by the Tricentennial Consortium, a group of public and private agencies. Members of that group include the Audubon Nature Institute, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association and SMG, which manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Tricentennial Consortium’s project, which would see the tower come down and a monument rise in its place, would cost $165 million, according to the group’s proposal, released by the city Monday.

That idea, however, is tied to other proposed improvements to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Ultimately that proposal, which envisions a new park at the upriver end of the convention center site, a hotel and apartment buildings as well as a revamped Convention Center Boulevard, is partially dependent upon legislation that would allow for a joint venture between the convention center and other private groups to finance all of the work, which would cost nearly $500 million.

Speaking during a Monday afternoon news conference, Stephen Perry, president and chief executive officer of the NOCVB, said the overall project is necessary to keep New Orleans and the convention center competitive when compared to other cities.

“This is within grasp now,” he said.

Though an artist’s rendering of the Tricentennial Coalition’s proposed park shows a spiral structure that looks similar to a wire funnel cloud rising above the river, Perry noted that it is only an idea and that a final structure has yet to be designed.

A proposal from Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital Corp. would see the WTC redeveloped as a W Hotel and luxury apartments as part of a $190 million plan.

The 33-story tower would have 245 hotel rooms and have a five-story addition built next to it. The WTC hotel would replace the W’s existing hotel on Poydras Street, according to the group’s proposal. The building also would house 280 luxury apartments.

A “Tricentennial sky wheel,” which is depicted as an illuminated Ferris wheel, could possibly be built on the riverfront behind the building, according to the proposal.

A proposal from James H. Burch LLC would see the majority of the WTC converted to hotel space and would return the building to one of its original uses following a $180 million renovation.

Along with 550 hotel rooms and 88 apartments, the building also would once again house the World Trade Center organization, along with foreign consulates, according to the proposal. The proposal says the Burch group has been in touch with four hotel brands that are not in the city right now but would offer a unique “niche” in the market.

The Burch plan also calls for removing the first three floors of the office building and creating an open-air mall and entertainment venue called “The World Plaza.”

Both the Gatehouse and Burch plans would see the return of the WTC’s revolving top floor as an entertainment venue.

The WTC building opened in 1968 as the International Trade Mart.

In recent years, its tenants slowly moved out, and last March, the city closed on a $2.3 million deal with the World Trade Center of New Orleans to give the city full operational control over redevelopment of the 670,000-square foot tower and its grounds.

The request for proposals followed that action.

Among the goals of the RFP are the creation a “world-class civic space,” development of “appropriate commercial uses for this highly valuable location,” direct revenue to the NOBC, drawing people to the riverfront while improving pedestrian access to the site from the Central Business District and French Quarter, enhancing the view of the river from Canal Street and creating new jobs, both permanent and temporary.

The proposals will be evaluated as follows:

A detailed description of the proposed redevelopment will be 35 percent of the evaluation.

Financial feasibility of the project will account for 25 percent of its evaluation.

Qualifications and performance history of the respondent will make account for 20 percent of the evaluation.

The financial capacity of the respondent will each make up the final 20 percent of the evaluation.

City Hall spokesman Hayne Rainey said the New Orleans Building Corp., a public-private entity that owns the WTC, will form a selection committee to evaluate each proposal. That committee has yet to be formed, and a timeline for its creation was not immediately available, Rainey said.