Developer to be chosen Tuesday for WTC

After years of failed attempts to redevelop the run down city-owned high rise at the foot of Canal Street, a five-member selection committee is scheduled to meet today to make a recommendation on the fate of the former World Trade Center building.

The committee, appointed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, is expected to choose one of three proposals, two of which call for turning the vacant building into a hotel and apartments and one that pushes for its demolition and replacement with a public park.

The panel is expected to score and rank each proposal based on the following: the developer’s performance history and financial capacity, 20 percent each; the project’s description, 35 percent; and its financial feasibility, 25 percent. The committee is tasked with making a final recommendation to the New Orleans Building Corp., which would negotiate a lease agreement with the winner. Members include Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, Jeffrey Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, Cindy Connick, executive director of the Canal Street Development Corp.; and William Gilchrist, the city’s director of place-based planning.

In a January request for proposals, the city said it would accept proposals to redevelop or demolish the building and endeavored to find a project that would turn the site into a “world-class civic space.” The request required that the proposed projects provide direct revenue commensurate with the building’s market value, create a “demand generator” on the riverfront, and provide new, well-paying temporary and permanent jobs.

Proposals were due in April. There have since been two public meetings, including one last month during which each developer made a presentation to and fielded questions from the committee.

The selection committee has been stone-faced, not even hinting at which of the three proposals it prefers. Questions to each group have centered largely on financing and financial feasibility.

Competing for the right to lease the site from the city are James H. Burch LLC and Gatehouse Capital Corp., both of which propose leaving the distinctive, X-shaped building intact and repurposing it as a hotel and residential apartments. The Burch project also includes space for offices and retail. The hotel would be operated by Valencia Group, a Houston firm that has developed three hotels. Gatehouse has partnered with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and has plans for a W Hotel at the site.

A third proposal from the Tricentennial Consortium, an alliance of tourism industry leaders, calls for the 50-year old building’s demolition. The group’s original plan called for filling the site with green space and an undetermined “iconic structure.” But the Tricentennial Consortium changed course when it made its formal pitch to the committee, saying that it would hold a series of public meetings to determine what should be located at the site.

The developers are barred from communicating directly with the committee during the selection process, but they have engaged in a contentious battle for public support.

Gatehouse, which launched a campaign that involved “Save the WTC Building” signs on coffee shops and lawns, has positioned the choice before the committee as a decision between saving the former World Trade Center building — its plan — and razing it, which is Tricentennial’s proposal.

In response, Tricentennial has sought to cast itself as a public steward that would save the building from private developers seeking to lock citizens out of the space.

The Burch group has promoted itself as the best investment, pointing to its plan as the only one that would make an up front lump sum payment to the city in addition to annual lease payments.