A plan to demolish several Central Business District buildings to make room for a hotel tower on Canal Street has been revived seven months after it was withdrawn at the request of City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose district includes the site.
The plan had drawn sharp disapproval from many people who live or work nearby, with opponents saying the proposed 21-story hotel tower would be too big for the site at Canal and Tchoupitoulas streets.
Many criticized the project’s developer for proposing a building height more than triple what is allowed for the area, as well as for proposing to demolish historic structures.
The City Council on Thursday approved a motion, introduced by Cantrell, directing the City Planning Commission to conduct a public hearing to consider a modified version of the hotel project.
Cantrell said she has met with the developers, architects, the preservation community and neighbors since asking that the plan be tabled in May.
“I am not saying that all of the stakeholders are in full agreement with regards to what is being presented,” she said. “But I am saying that a process that is transparent, that was aboveboard, that dealt with all of the existing conditions led us to this point today.”
The original development plan called for the demolition of six buildings, at 408 and 422 Canal St. and 103, 105, 109 and 111 Tchoupitoulas St., to make room for a 21-story hotel tower that would have stood 250 feet high and also would have had a 100-foot spire, bringing the total height to 350 feet.
According to that proposal, presented by the co-development team of Wischermann Partners Inc. and Jayshree Hospitality, a Residence Inn and a Springhill Suites were to be housed in the 373-room facility, with a 168-space parking garage occupying several of the building’s lower levels. The development budget was put at $120 million.
The property is owned by Kishore “Mike” Motwani, and the buildings there now are occupied on the ground floors by liquor stores and shops selling tourist souvenirs.
Motwani owns a number of such stores and is a controversial figure in the French Quarter and among preservationists and city officials, in part because of the types of businesses he owns and also because he often has flouted the restrictions imposed on development in downtown areas.
Developers have not yet formally submitted new plans for the site. A telephone call to co-developer Shaun O’Laughlin, of Minnesota-based Wischermann, was not returned Friday.
New renderings of the proposed building show the structure absent the spire that adorned the earlier version. The revised version also appears to include at least some of the old buildings on the site. The building still is taller than the 70-foot height cap for the site set by the zoning law.
The previous proposal was rejected by the CBD panel of the Historic District Landmarks Commission, with one member saying the request showed a “blatant disregard” for the city’s zoning laws and master plan. The developers went before the HDLC seeking permission to demolish the six old buildings.
The plan also would have needed a height waiver because it exceeded the 70-foot limit.
The HDLC urged the developers to preserve three of the Tchoupitoulas Street buildings because of their age, origin, history and masonry, as well as 422 Canal St. because it once was occupied by prominent architect James Freret.
The project’s architect said doing so would not be cost-effective because the buildings, as they exist, wouldn’t allow for the parking garage or the 22 rooms per floor necessary to make the project financially feasible.
Commissioner Keith Twitchell said the request to build a structure more than three times the allowed height showed a “blatant disregard” for the city’s zoning laws.
O’Laughlin argued that the CBD needs such a development to support and expand the city’s tourism industry, and he appealed the commission’s decision to the City Council.
But the developers then withdrew the proposal at the request of Cantrell, who said she wanted to work with the developers and other stakeholders on a more palatable option.