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.