Apr 252013
 

Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

For many years, the 33-story World Trade Center overlooking the Mississippi River was one of New Orleans’ most important centers of business.

Powerful people, companies and government agencies including the Port of New Orleans occupied suites at the WTC. The 30th floor restaurant, the Plimsoll Club, was usually packed. You needed a reservation to get a table. The World Trade Center suite on the 29th floor was often the site of important civic press conferences and educational seminars. Located at the foot of the Mississippi River at the end of Canal Street, the WTC offered incredible views of the river, especially from the Plimsoll Club. At the top of the building a revolving bar called the Top of the Mart was an important social spot. During her years as a lobbyist for the Dock Board, Danae worked at the WTC Building and enjoyed it. She, along with her colleagues, thought the Plimsoll Club was a neat place for lunch.

There was a time when many consulates had offices at the WTC. But, one by one, they closed their doors. The WTC moved its offices to Canal Place across the street. Every year, WTC trade missions have embarked from New Orleans to Central and South America, and also to Europe and Asia. In fact, in June, a WTC trade mission is scheduled to leave for Turkey.

But the sands of time have run out on the WTC. Designed in the 1960s by world famous architect Edward Durell Stone, the building is empty – an urban ghost town. Perhaps the beginning of the end for the WTC was when the Dock Board left for its own newly built offices on the riverfront.

Some realtors think that the WTC location is the most valuable real estate in New Orleans. But, of course, the WTC building as it stands today has very little value. The question facing Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the movers and shakers of New Orleans is what should replace the WTC? The WTC was completed in 1967 and has stood for 45 years. In all likelihood, whatever replaces the WTC will also be around for a half-century or more so if the choice of a replacement is a bad one, the city will live with it for a long time.

A key guy who will be advising the New Orleans Building Corporation, which has jurisdiction over the site, will be Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant. A veteran of the Marc Morial administration and state government who found a home with the Landrieu team, Grant is currently studying three proposals, each offering a different vision of what should replace the WTC.

Two out-of-town developers have recommended that the WTC building be renovated and re-fitted for four or five-star hotels with a considerable payout to the city. Also on the table is a local proposal by tourism leaders, calling themselves the Tricentennial Commission, who would like to see the WTC demolished and replaced by an architectural marvel that – like the Arch in St. Louis – would capture the Spirit of New Orleans just in time for the city’s 300th anniversary. The tourism leaders would also like to construct an educational attraction on the riverfront. It would be a big tourist draw and add value to other nearby attractions including the Aquarium of the Americas, the Insectarium, Harrah’s Casino and the Riverwalk, which is being transformed into an outlet mall under the watchful eye of the Howard Hughes Corporation.

The Tricentennials also support conceptually the Morial Convention Center’s proposed plan to develop riverfront hotels, restaurants, retail and condominiums adjacent to the Morial Convention Center. Interestingly, Mayor Landrieu is already on record saying that the WTC has fulfilled its purpose and should now be torn down to be replaced with something more reflective of 21st Century New Orleans.

The key to the deal, whichever deal it may be, is money. The city’s financial problems are hardly a secret. Whether it’s a payout from the construction of a four or five-star hotel at the spot now occupied by the WTC or the payout from condos, increased conventions and leisure visitors, Mayor Landrieu will be challenged to determine which deal is best financially for New Orleans.

Poor old WTC Building. It was once a grand lady but now it’s shriveled and worn. The old lady served her function for a half-century but now it’s time to go.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.

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  • Deux amours

    Too bad no one was willing to associate his name with the proposition that this is the most valuable real estate in New Orleans. To my understanding, the property is virtually worthless or out of commerce, depending on your point view, as it is overly burdened with public and governmental restrictions and can’t be sold straight up. If I am wrong about that, the city and/or whatever other entities who own it ought to list it immediately. We need the money.

  • disqus_JJgV240nhg

    Sorry I disagree. Having moved here from California about 13 years ago and being used to the many free panoramic views of the Bay Area, my husband and I were grateful that at least we could enjoy one panoramic view of this great city and its river. For the cost of a drink or two we were spellbound by the beautiful site from the rotating bar at the top of the TWC.

    When it closed down, we were greatly saddened and then rejuvenated again when it was renovated just before Katrina. Many a visiting friend we took there. As we felt, they knew that they gazed on a remarkable scene. That incredible body of water moving through the city of New Orleans – a very rare opportunity. It will be a great loss to wipe out this building and the rotating bar.

    We are very much in favor of converting the structure to a hotel. What better monument than a building with many views of the river in a city where the highest peak is “monkey hill” at the Audoban Zoo!

    Marsha

    mnwalley@hotmail.com

    Irish Channel

    Marsha

  • jexni

    The city does not need nor can it afford an architectural marvel that – like the Arch in St. Louis – would capture the Spirit of New Orleans. But out of curiosity, what is the spirit of New Orleans? A second line marcher? A giant hurricane glass or Mardi Gras mask? Some sort of monument to our violent and ignorant population that makes us diverse? Perhaps a monument to the whores that live off the tragedy of Katrina and their incessant whine about the Federal Flood.

    Until we fund our prisons and fix our sewerage system, we can’t waste money on studies and consultants to design our big icon. Get some revenue from a nice hotel development and develop the rest of the river that can become open to the public.

  • Uptowner

    The city needs the money, so I think it’s going to end up being a hotel/condo mixed-use development with some retail and restaurant uses. If done tastefully, it will be nice and will provide some much needed money to the city, along with those great river views that are hard to come by here. I read somewhere about the possibility of a “riverfront festival park” as part of the plan from the Tricentennial Committee, which sounds great but is probably just wishful thinking…

  • ferngrrl

    I believe a local firm is also proposing to turn it into a 4 or 5 star hotel. That would be the best plant. Period.

  • ferngrrl

    The city IS an architectural marvel. We don’t need to prove anything; St. Louis did.

    The wise move would be to renovate the ITM as a hotel, or build a new one, and add a riverfront pedestrian area. Not swanky tourist-catering shops. Use the area to bring us locals back to Canal St.