Bethany Stich, Ph.D. and Akul Nishawala / Contributing Writers
Stich is an associate professor of Planning and Urban Studies at The University of New Orleans, and Nishawala is a graduate student in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of New Orleans. The following is their analysis of the three plans to remake World Trade Center.
As speculation swirls around the future of the World Trade Center, it is worthwhile to take a moment and review the leading proposals offered by Gatehouse Capital, James H. Burch LLC and the Tricentennial Consortium.
Gatehouse proposes a $190 million redevelopment plan that would convert the building to a mixed-use property. The plan includes a 245-room flagship W Hotel on floors 1-12, 280 residential units from floors 13-30, a redeveloped civic space with a “sky wheel” along the river, and a new 5-story structure dedicated to parking and an event area. Additionally, the Besh Restaurant Group has agreed to partner with this development, contributing to the food service and entertainment options.
Burch’s proposal is similar to the Gatehouse proposal in that the building will consist of mixed uses. A 550-room hotel will comprise the upper floors of the building, including a rooftop lounge and full floor restaurant. The first four floors will be dedicated to office space with an additional four floors for foreign consulates. Forty two residential units are also in the plan. The proposal mentions the return of the World Trade Center to the building, but this has not yet been finalized.
The Tricentennial Consortium is the only proposal that recommends demolition of the building and converting the entire site to a public space. An “iconic structure” is to be placed on the site, but the design offered in the proposal is only conceptual. The group will have an “open call” to determine the actual design of the structure. The group feels that another hotel is not needed, and that a “demand generator” is a better use.
The three proposals offer varying perspectives on what to do with this site. While two propose an adaptive re-use of the building, their approaches are different.
The first conclusion is that Gatehouse’s proposal is the most detailed and specific. It offers floor-by-floor plans and renderings, while the other two provide only conceptual images and design precedents. Additionally, Gatehouse argues that $75 million worth of historic tax credits can help fund the building, and that it has taken initial steps to acquire them.
While the other proposals lack specifics, it is still possible to have productive dialogue. The sky wheel—while a proven revenue generator in Seattle—is an interesting idea, but it does not reflect the unique identity of New Orleans.
The Burch proposal argues that the building should be used to bring a more world-class identity to New Orleans through “The World Plaza” (100,000 sq. ft.), which would connect the Spanish Plaza and Convention Center Boulevard extending into the Algiers ferry terminal (depending whether the ferry is still in service). However, this idea is undermined by the truly horrid idea of a “nightly Mardi Gras.” Furthermore, Burch argues that designs will be drawn up during the preceding phase of construction in order to save time. A comprehensive design must be produced before any work is to be done.
Similarly, the Tricentennial Consortium offers only conceptual ideas. It knows it wants to demolish the building and turn the site into a public space, but it does not seem sure how to do it. There is also no budget given for this proposal. The Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) estimated that demolition and reconstruction would cost approximately $110 million. The core issue with a public open space like this is public safety and loss of tax revenue. Unless this iconic structure is so jaw-droppingly beautiful that it attracts people like moths to a flame, there is very little offered to ensure that the park is constantly populated, safe and a source of economic benefit to the city. The area needs to cater to locals as well as serve the city; this proposal seems to cater primarily to tourists, which is not surprising given the Consortium’s partners.
Keeping the building and offering hotel and office space would allow locals and tourists to occupy the space simultaneously. Gatehouse is the only developer with completed major projects on its resume. Burch’s projects are currently ongoing, and the Consortium only has a few projects that its developers can claim. For these reasons, it is our opinion that the Gatehouse proposal holds the most promise for recycling an eyesore into an asset.