Questions of would-be WTC developers are revealing

The five-member panel that will decide the future of the former World Trade Center building provided some insight this week into what it believes are weaknesses in each of the proposals it is considering.

In letters sent Monday to the three developers competing for the right to lease the 2 Canal St. site from the city, the committee asked general questions about development experience and design plans and also provided targeted queries related to financing, management and economic impact.

Developers have been advised to answer the questions in writing by July 26 and also to address them within a 30-minute presentation each will give to the committee later this month.

The three firms were the only respondents to a request for proposals to find a new use for the vacant building. Two major revitalization schemes for the building in the past decade have ended in failure.

Two respondents, John H. Burch LLC and Gatehouse Capital Corp., propose leaving the building intact and turning it into a hotel and residential apartments. The Burch project also includes space for offices and retail.

A third proposal from the Tricentennial Consortium, an alliance of tourism industry leaders, calls for the 50-year-old building’s demolition. The group has proposed filling the site with green space and an undetermined “iconic structure,” akin to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Each group was asked to explain how its proposal would connect pedestrians to the surrounding area, including the Mississippi River, Riverwalk Marketplace, the Aquarium of the Americas and Canal and Poydras streets.

The two proposals that involve keeping the building were asked to detail their track records in redeveloping similar properties, and to explain how they would remediate the structure if it is found to contain asbestos.

Many of the questions directed at the Tricentennial Consortium centered on that project’s management, operation and financing.

The committee has asked for a list of owners, officers and directors in the alliance and for the name of the “developer entity” that would enter into a lease with the New Orleans Building Corp., the city agency that acts as landlord for the building. The question of who would operate the consortium’s proposed structure also was raised by the Bureau of Governmental Research in a report released earlier this month.

The group was asked to provide third-party verification of its economic-impact projections, to explain its job-creation figures and to give a “detailed explanation” of how it intends to pay for its proposal, given Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent veto of a bill that provided the financial underpinnings for the plan.

The committee’s questions to the Burch team focused on securing a clearer picture of what the proposed hotel and residential apartments will look like and how the project will be financed. The committee also wants the Burch team to identify the four hotel brands it says have expressed interest in locating in the proposed hotel.

The selection panel asked for more specific information about the project’s design plans, including architectural and engineering studies, and an explanation of its revenue projections for the hotel and residential space.

In addition to a hotel and apartments, the Burch plan calls for making four floors available to foreign consulates in a tourist attraction that would be called “Eyes on the World.”

The committee wants to know how likely that project is to move forward, which consulates have expressed interest, and whether there are any similar exhibitions the committee could use as an example of how the attraction might operate.

The committee had the fewest questions for Gatehouse Capital Corp., which submitted the most detailed proposal of the three. The panel did, however, ask that team in a variety of questions to explain how its project might improve or worsen the pedestrian experience at the site. The panel wants the Gatehouse group to explain the “necessity” of building a structure adjacent to the 2 Canal St. building to use as a parking garage, as Gatehouse has proposed.

The committee requested more information about the people who will build and pay for the Gatehouse project. It wants financial statements from the companies that will provide loan guarantees for the plan and an accounting of the sources and uses of funds Gatehouse Capital has had access to in its last two projects.

The committee also wants proof that Starwood remains interested in putting a W Hotel at the site.

A selection committee made up of Cedric Grant; deputy mayor; Cindy Connick, executive director of the Canal Street Development Corp.; William Gilchrist, the city’s director of place-based planning; Andy Kopplin, chief administrative officer; and Jeffrey Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, is reviewing the proposals and will make a recommendation to the New Orleans Building Corp. in mid-August.