Scott Satchfield / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- Plans to demolish a vacant, former hotel on Canal Street are on hold -- for now.
Wednesday, state officials postponed imploding the old Pallas Hotel for environmental reasons, but in an eleventh hour move, attorneys for 1732 Canal Street LLC, the building's former owner, are trying to stop the process altogether.
The state expropriated the building to make way for the new University Medical Center. However, attorneys are crying foul.
"It's a land grab as far as I'm concerned. It's not constitutional. It's not legal," said attorney Randy Smith, who represents the former owner.
Wednesday morning, Smith filed a motion to halt demolition.
Smith said he recently learned the state plans to convert the property into green space, instead of rebuilding on it. That, he said, makes expropriation illegal.
"The taking of private property is allowed for a public purpose, but there's constraints, as there should be. The government can't just come and take whatever property it wants," Smith said.
Wednesday afternoon, the state announced it will, in fact, postpone demolition -- not because of the motion, but due to a new inspection that found hazardous materials inside the building, which must be removed.
Officials said, ultimately, they're planning to install power lines at the site and that it would only become green space temporarily.
Either way, Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino likes the state's chances in court.
"As long as the property that's expropriated is part and parcel of the overall project and contributes to the project, then I would imagine courts would find the expropriation is reasonable," Ciolino said. "This very well may be part of an effort by the (former) owners to get a better deal on the expropriation funds that they did receive."
Smith confirmed his team is contesting the amount paid by the state, but he insists this current effort is more about saving the building.
Even though it's been vacant for years, Smith said it's structurally sound and that with renovations it could be redeveloped.
"It's near transportation. It's near the bus and train station and everything else and there are great opportunities there," he said.
Smith said his motion is scheduled for a Dec. 16 court date. That's two days before the original demolition date, which, again, is now postponed for environmental reasons.
Officials said a new demolition date will be set once abatement of the hazardous materials is complete.
We asked the state for comment on the lawsuit, but officials instead pointed us to their previous statements regarding plans for the site.