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

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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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