Land Use

Convention Center officials envision iconic sculpture on former World Trade Center site

A presentation by the Convention Center depicts a giant sculpture on the site of the World Trade Center. It appears to be what Mayor Mitch Landrieu referred to when he told The Lens that one possibility for the site would be to create a monumental attraction, on par with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

A presentation by the Convention Center depicts a giant sculpture on the site of the World Trade Center. It appears to be what Mayor Mitch Landrieu referred to when he told The Lens that one possibility for the site would be to create a monumental attraction, on par with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Morial Convention Center

The shuttered, 33-story World Trade Center would be demolished, and a towering sculpture and a park – meant to become a tourism icon for the city of New Orleans — would be built in its place at the foot of Canal Street, according to a presentation obtained by The Lens Friday.

The plan was drawn up by officials at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in conjunction with an entity called Tricentennial Consortium, as part of an ambitious plan to redevelop the riverfront, according to the document.*

Tricentennial is one of three entities that filed bids on Wednesday to redevelop the city-owned World Trade Center site. Tricentennial apparently takes its name from the upcoming 300th anniversary of New Orleans in 2018. It’s composed of heavyweights in the city’s hotel and tourism industry, according to a statement released by the group:

  • The Audubon Nature Institute, which operates the zoo and the aquarium and is led by Ron Forman
  • The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is led by J. Stephen Perry
  • The Louisiana Restaurant Association, which is led by Stan Harris
  • SMG, which manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and is led in New Orleans by Doug Thornton
  • The Ernest M. Morial Convention Center, whose general manager is Robert Johnson
  • Two architectural firms: Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Manning Architects.

Forman, Perry and Thornton did not return phone calls Friday.

The New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corp. is playing a supporting role, said Mark Romig, its president and chief executive officer.

The Convention Center’s presentation shows plans for the creation of the Tricentennial Convention Center Development District. It would include the World Trade Center site, Spanish Plaza, the ferry landing, the median strip of Convention Center Boulevard and the swath of land just upriver from the Convention Center.

The Convention Center expansion would cost $184 million. The World Trade Center redevelopment would cost $165 million, according to a proposal filed with the city. That proposal says the Convention Center would put up $25 million to demolish the World Trade Center building and handle various site improvements, but it’s unclear if that is included in the $184 million figure for the Convention Center expansion.*

The site upriver from the Convention Center at Henderson Street would include a park where wharves are today. The presentation shows it would be about the same size as Woldenberg Park, which is located on the river in the French Quarter.

Convention Center Boulevard would be redesigned to include a landscaped path and a sleek people mover.

New Orleans’ Gateway Arch?

The giant sculpture depicted in the presentation appears to be what Mayor Mitch Landrieu referred to when he told The Lens on Wednesday that one possibility for the site would be to create a monumental attraction, on par with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, as part of a plan to bring 13 million visitors to New Orleans in 2018, up from 9 million today. Others have discussed turning the World Trade Center into a hotel.

Landrieu called the site “the most important piece of property in the city.”

The Lens reported Thursday night that Convention Center officials have been quietly drawing up plans for an expansion of the giant facility. They call for allowing private companies to develop a hotel, apartments, condos, retail stores and restaurants on 50 acres just upriver from the Convention Center.

Convention Center officials on Thursday did not answer questions from The Lens and on Friday did not provide the presentation, which The Lens obtained from someone concerned about the lack of public knowledge about the plan.

Convention Center officials have been privately briefing state legislators and other key players about the plans.

State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, has filed a measure, House Bill 516, that would have the Legislature authorize the “Phase V” expansion of the center, including the issuance of bonds to fund it.

The bill also would allow Convention Center money to be used to tear down the World Trade Center and prepare the surrounding park.

So plans for the World Trade Center site and Phase V of the Convention Center appear to be closely linked.

The city will allow media to view the three proposals for the World Trade Center on Monday, according to city spokesman Ryan Berni.

To be sure, it’s one thing to offer an ambitious plan. It’s another thing to execute it.

Developer Christopher Hemmeter came from Hawaii 21 years ago with a grand vision for much of that same area to build what he said would be the world’s biggest casino, surrounded by parks, an arch and other features. In the end, all that was built was the casino, operated by Harrah’s.

A plan to invite companies to redevelop the World Trade Center site fell apart in 2008 when the winning bidder pulled out. An earlier effort in the mid-1990s also failed.

“The risk is if you tear it down and don’t have the financing for something dramatic like the St. Louis Arch,” said Pres Kabacoff, a major developer in the Warehouse District and the Bywater neighborhood. “You may have lost the opportunity to do something special.”

This story was updated after publication with the names of the organizations involved in the Tricentennial Consortium, as well a comment from Landrieu.

*Correction: This story originally reported that the organization working with the Convention Center is called Tricentennial Development. It’s the Tricentennial Consortium. (April 19, 2013)

*Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that the Convention Center expansion would cost $488 million. The figure has been corrected. (April 22, 2013)

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About Tyler Bridges

Tyler Bridges covers Louisiana politics and public policy for The Lens. He returned to New Orleans in 2012 after spending the previous year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where he studied digital journalism. Prior to that, he spent 13 years as a reporter for the Miami Herald, where he was twice a member of Pulitzer Prize-winning teams while covering state government, the city of Miami and national politics. He also was a foreign correspondent based in South America. Before the Herald, he covered politics for seven years at The Times-Picayune. He is the author of The Rise of David Duke (1994) and Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards (2001). He can be reached at (504) 810-6222.

  • Not a bad idea in theory, but you only get one chance to do it so you better do it right.

    Sculptures, like any other piece of public art, become iconic on their own intrinsic merit, not because somebody decided to create an iconic sculpture. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, designed by Eero Saarinen, has a thematic tie to the history of St. Louis, which was the literal gateway to westward expansion after the Louisiana Purchase. In addition it is a visually striking structure in its own right, especially as it catches the first or last rays of light each day.
    The peculiar structure pictured here looks like a giant ice cream cone. If the city wants to go that route, a monumental sno-ball would be more fitting. IMO this is a process which should go forward as the World Trade Center is an undistinguished waste of a great location, but it is to be hoped that a more fitting centerpiece–one which is in some way thematically tied to New Orleans’ identity–will be featured instead.

  • Yawn!!!!!

    How many people go to St. Louis just to visit the arch? Or put that on their TODO list of things to do before they die?

    No wonder why New Orleans Tourism is a JOKE. When you have national media and commentators saying New Orleans is The Big Easy or The Big SLEAZY, complain about the SMELL, or Lights Out during the SuperBowl, and so on, do you really think it’s the WTC being closed down?

    You also got the NOLA Tourism saying NOLA is top 10 on this list and that list….but where are the companies and jobs? Or the tax dollars from being the TOP 10 of this list or that list? Street Light are STILL NOT FIXED.

    Why not ask the 130,000 who left more than 7 years ago because of Hurricane Katrina if having a monument like and ice cream cone is going to make them come back to NOLA? By the way, it’s also the homeless, panhandlers, and dirty French Quarter and all the T-Shirt Shops that make people just walk past New Orleans and never come back…..

    To have sculpture is like the Harrah’s CASINO at the FOOT of CANAL STREET…remember that LAND BASED CASINO was supposed to be the cornerstone and revitalize Canal Street….also trumpeted by the same tourism and NOLA groups you hear now.
    And all those TAXI DRIVERS with the 50,000 jobs BUMPER STICKERS, remember that?

  • AhContraire, what a little ray of sunshine you are!

  • Louis Cannon

    It’s a twister! IT’S A TWISTER!!

  • The Gateway Arch is at once unique, visually striking, and thematically related to the history of St. Louis. For all these reasons it has earned iconic status and has become effectively that city’s trademark, just as the Eiffel Tower has for Paris. In connection with the Museum of Westward Expansion at its base the Gateway Arch is also an economically viable tourist attraction, and about four million people a year buy tickets to gain entrance to the complex.

    New Orleans is known as The Crescent City, and the city itself is sometimes represented as a star inside a crescent.

    The link below is to an image of a piece of Victorian jewelry on that theme–a star in a crescent. Imagine this design 300 feet tall at the foot of Canal Street, with the star an elevator moving on a track along the inner edge of the crescent and the pearls as stops at different levels–a restaurant, a cocktail lounge, an observation area at the top.

    It would be visually striking, it would be unique (just as the Gateway Arch and Eiffel Tower are unique) it would be a tourist draw in its own right, and–most important–it would be thematically connected to the identity and history of New Orleans, The Crescent City.
    Why not? It’s better by far than some abstract design which has no connection to New Orleans at all.

  • Spellcheck: slide No. 19, “Ariel” should be “Aerial.”
    I like parks and plazas as much as the next person, but I’d have to agree I’d rather see $488 million used for street and utility improvements than in another riverfront park. You want iconic art and architecture, recall that we used to have a Rivergate building guarded by Joan, the Maid of Orleans. We tore all that down to build a trashy casino. Oh well.
    And what happens to the Canal Street ferry? Is automobile traffic eliminated?

  • augusta
  • If you were offered unlimited dollars to fix the three things in the City that piss you off the most? Open-ended, crony dealing rates, just like a local DoD?

    What would you choose? Streets? Crime? Sewers? Schools?

    How many of you chose “redeveloping the riverfront for tourists”?

    Didn’t think so.

    That’s what they are proposing. Taking our building, our city, and our money. For a butt ugly sculpture. Or some strange phallic substitute. sorry…. .

    Instead of infrastructure.

    Instead of making our lives better.

    That’s where the corruption that plagues our city comes from. We’re always the sucker. Happy to do without if someone uses fancy words like ‘vibrant.’ Screw the tourists. Fix us, first.

    We are New Orleans, folks!!! We don’t need no stinkin’ ‘iconic sculptures’ to draw tourists! We need the city toinvest in us,the people who do the real job of drawing tourists. It’s our skills, our talent and our sweat they come to see. Us.

    One more time. Name your priorities.The money is there – go get it.