NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A proposal to transform a long-empty but fondly remembered New Orleans office tower into luxury hotel and apartment space got a tentative nod Tuesday from an advisory panel that hopes to draw more tourists to the riverfront and pump millions into the financially strapped city's budget.
Rejected was a proposal to tear down the 33-story city-owned building, which is still referred to by the name of its best-known tenant— the World Trade Center — even though that organization left the building years ago.
Under that rejected proposal, a consortium of tourism industry leaders had hoped to replace the aging 1960s era building with public space in time to mark the city's 300th anniversary in 2018.
A proposal by Gatehouse Capital Corp. scored highest in an evaluation tabulated by the advisory panel that was appointed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and included two deputy mayors. The panel's recommendations go next to the New Orleans Building Corp., the city agency that would negotiate a lease with Gatehouse.
Andy Kopplin, a deputy mayor and the city's chief administrative officer, said the recommendation doesn't mean the Gatehouse proposal, which includes a W hotel, is a done deal. The corporation was selected largely because of its track record on such developments.
"They clearly understand the business and have a feasible proposal," Kopplin said.
However, a competitor, Burch LLC, had more completely fleshed out its plans for including minority businesses in accord with city goals, and was offering the city more upfront lease money, Kopplin noted: an estimated $24 million vs. $10 million from Gatehouse. Burch, like Gatehouse, had proposed a luxury hotel and residential development.
"That remains to be negotiated and it could cause us to have to come back to the table if we don't see a lot of progress on those two issues," Kopplin said following the meeting.
Gatehouse won the recommendation after the five-member panel heard consultants' analyses of the proposed methods of financing and, in the case of Burch and Gatehouse, plans for the hotel and residential areas that included projected rents. Gatehouse appeared to have the edge during the discussion, in part because its rent projections were deemed more realistic. Panel members individually scored each of the three proposals on factors including the developer's performance history and financial capacity, the project's description and financial feasibility. Gatehouse finished on top when the scores were added up. Burch was second.
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