NO high-rise: 2 plans to renovate, 1 to replace


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The city of New Orleans now has two proposals to renovate an empty office building that occupies valuable riverside land and a third proposal — backed by the city's tourism establishment — to replace it with a sleek new tower to mark the city's approaching tricentennial in 2018.

Each of the two proposals for remodeling the old World Trade Center building includes a luxury hotel and residential complex. Both would re-open a revolving rooftop restaurant and lounge that once was a popular city gathering spot.

The third proposal would replace the 1960s era building with a sleek tower that would dominate the skyline. An artist's rendering shows a tower somewhat resembling an elongated hourglass, with a silhouette that tapers and then flares outward as it rises. It would house an observation deck, some sort of ride giving a panoramic view of the city, a proposed National Wetlands Center and a venue for special events.

It's the most dramatic of the three plans and it's proposed by a group of public and private tourism and convention entities called the Tricentennial Consortium. Its members include the Audubon Institute, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association, Louisiana Restaurant Association and SMG Corp., which manages the Superdome.

The $165 million tower project is part of a nearly $490 million package of improvements proposed for the WTC site, including changes in traffic patterns and development of the riverfront aimed at boosting riverfront tourist traffic from the historic French Quarter to the convention center. The full proposal is dependent in part on legislation that would allow a joint venture between the convention center authority and private entities.

The other proposals for the building include a proposed renovation of the existing building by James H. Burch LLC that would include hotel rooms and luxury residences. In a nod to the building's original purpose, it would also again house the New Orleans World Trade Center organization. The proposal also envisions four floors that would be home to foreign consulates.

The proposal by Gatehouse Capital includes a hotel and residential unit. Both envision fine dining and retail entities and both would re-open the rooftop revolving lounge that once gave visitors an ever-changing view of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans area.

Formally opened in 1968 as the International Trade Mart, the building was once New Orleans' tallest structure, a standout on the city skyline, predating the Superdome.

It was a focal point for promotion of international trade and home, for a time, to the office of the Port of New Orleans. Aside from its business function, it also was an attraction for tourists and locals.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration's efforts to revive the property included an agreement last year to buy out the lease of the major tenant — the trade promotion organization for which the building is named — and issue a call for proposals a to redevelop the property.

Past attempts to revive the empty building as a luxury hotel have fizzled over the years. But the Burch and Gatehouse proposals both envision their projects as key to boosting tourism and visitor traffic at the site.

However, the new tower idea proposed by the tourism heavyweights is similar to what some business leaders have been talking up for years — a new icon for the city along the lines of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on the Thames River.

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