Beekeepers tried Tuesday night to remove a massive honeybee hive from the Maritime Building in the Central Business District, but the operation — which cost more than $7,000 and took about a month to plot, according to the beekeeper in charge — ran into a number of difficulties.
The process fell an hour behind schedule before the actual removal began.
Traffic was restricted to one lane in the 800 block of Common Street as two workers were hoisted almost 150 feet in the air on a lift truck to remove the colony, which was roughly 4 feet by 4 feet and was estimated to contain 65,000 to 85,000 worker bees.
“It’s very dangerous. Very dangerous,” said Glenn Gueho, the owner of Busy Bee Co., the Marrero company hired to extract the hive. “I’ve done thousands of removals over the years, but this is the highest extraction I’ve done, and it’s taken the most planning.”
The hive, which Gueho described as “impressive,” was nestled into the architectural details of a ledge between the 10th and 11th floors of the 158-foot skyscraper, on the Uptown riverside corner of the building. The bees had custom-engineered the hive so that it modeled the intricate juts and crevices of the historic building.
Designed by Thomas Sully in 1893, the Maritime Building was the first high-rise to be erected in New Orleans. The exterior design includes medallion decorations with various birds and Roman profiles placed in spandrels, windows with Greek key architraves and terra cotta carvings of garlands.
The “patio dwellers,” as Gueho called the bees, had built their hive into a bottom corner of the narrow ledge, making it too dangerous for beekeepers to reach it by climbing out a window or down from the roof.
So Gueho had to figure out how to remove the hive by working from the ground up. The task involved renting a 150-foot lift truck and putting his workers through a two-week training program on how to use it.
But first, he had to obtain a permit from the city, so he could stop traffic on the Carondelet Street side of the building.
By 7 p.m., a crowd of about 100 had gathered to watch as the beekeepers started the process. Tourists and local residents were craning their necks up, taking pictures with their phones and even using binoculars.
Wearing layers of protective gear, the beekeepers prepared to use a honeybee extraction machine, a modified vacuum system that allows the bees to flow “softly” into an open canister.
Another canister was set aside to hold some of their “brew,” or honey mixture, so they could survive the transport to Orange Grove, a honeybee apiary, or collection of beehives, owned by Gueho. From there, the bees would be given a permanent home.
“We have about a 98 percent recovery rate,” boasted one of Gueho’s hired beekeepers, Kevin James Hartfield. “I love the bees. … I don’t get stung much. You just have to be gentle with them.”
Jason Pilgrim, the maintenance director of the company that owns the building, Wisznia Development, also spoke fondly of the bees. “It’s been there since I’ve been here, about three years,” Pilgrim said of the hive, adding that only recently had residents complained. “They never bothered me.”
Merchant, a coffee and tea company located on the ground floor of the Maritime Building, planned to use the honey to sweeten coffee, tea, crepes and other baked goods. When they run out of that colony’s honey, the company will start buying it through Gueho’s company, Busy Bee, Pilgrim said.