A New Orleans judge Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit that for more than a year has stalled progress on a $360 million plan to turn the old World Trade Center building into a Four Seasons Hotel and condominiums — perhaps meaning construction may finally proceed.
Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase dismissed the suit filed by a firm that bid for but lost the chance to redevelop the vacant office tower at the foot of Canal Street, saying the firm failed to put up $750,000 in security within 10 days of being notified of her order to do so.
After hearing oral arguments this week, a judge is set to decide on a lawsuit that has stall…
The losing firm, Two Canal Street Investors Inc., has accused city officials of violating state law in the way they selected the firms to redevelop the building. Two Canal said its proposal should have been chosen because it offered the city the most money in lease payments.
But the selected development team of Carpenter and Co. and Woodward Design + Build has cast Two Canal as merely a tool of a con man looking for a fat check. They pointed out that Stuart “Neil” Fisher bought Two Canal for $10 after its bid was rejected. And city officials have said the quasi-public agency that acts as landlord for the city-owned building is exempt from the state law that Two Canal has cited.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration also got a state law passed this spring that would speed up the timeline for such lawsuits, and which references an existing law that requires legal challengers like Two Canal to put up cash or a bond — the amount of which must be set by a judge — before any suit they file may proceed. The law was initially designed to make it more financially risky for losing firms to challenge such decisions in court, but Two Canal worked with state lawmakers to tweak its language.
Per that law and at Carpenter and Woodward’s behest, Chase ordered Two Canal to put up $750,000 in security by July 8, an amount close to the more than $786,000 that Carpenter and Woodward said they have spent to litigate the case.
When Two Canal failed to do so, Chase dismissed their case.
“The Four Seasons development team is pleased by the court's dismissal of this baseless litigation,” said Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Carpenter and Woodward.
An attorney for Two Canal returned a request for comment late Wednesday.
(Read their response.)
The company suing over how New Orleans officials chose a contractor to redevelop the old World Trade Center building plans to appeal a judge’s…
Chase’s ruling also removes a “notice of pendency,” or a notice of pending legal action, that the court had placed on the property after Two Canal’s initial suit, Beuerman said. That notice placed a cloud on the property’s title, making it impossible for the firms to obtain title insurance and stalling work on the project.
“As we have stated all along, Mr. Fisher's TCSI is a shell corporation with no assets. We look forward to bringing the Four Seasons Hotel to New Orleans along with much-needed jobs and new economic opportunity for the region,” Beuerman said.
The requirement to post cash was just one of the methods project backers hoped would stamp out Two Canal's suit. Carpenter and Woodward also sought to cast Two Canal as a shell corporation, an argument Chase was also considering.
Landrieu has long called for Two Canal's suit to be tossed, seeking to have the project completed before his term ends in May 2018.
When faced with residents who questioned the city's selection process for the World Trade Center at a community budget meeting in the 7th Ward on Wednesday night, Landrieu praised Wednesday's ruling, the project's developers and the project itself.
"That’s going to be the biggest job creator that we’ve seen in the city in a long time," he said.
The city’s legal spat with a losing bidder on the World Trade Center redevelopment project i…
Editor's note: This story has been updated to note Two Canal's response and context it provides.