Bill aimed at ending legal battle over World Trade Center project, motion to dismiss losing bidder’s case both up for consideration Wednesday _lowres

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has taken its courtroom spat with a losing bidder on the World Trade Center redevelopment to the Legislature, working with a state lawmaker on a bill that could make lawsuits over such public development projects financially risky.

Advocate file photo by JOHN McCUSKER

The man behind a firm that bid for but lost a chance to redevelop the city’s World Trade Center building must appear in New Orleans and give a deposition for a court case challenging the city’s selection process, a Civil District Court judge ruled Tuesday.

Florida developer Stuart “Neil” Fisher contends that even though he owns Two Canal Street Investors Inc., the company in question, he is not a party to the suit it filed after the city rejected its redevelopment bid.

His New Orleans attorneys argued that if the defendants in the case want Fisher’s sworn testimony, they should have to go to Florida to get it.

Two Canal Street sued in April 2015 after the New Orleans Building Corp., the city agency that acts as landlord for the city-owned World Trade Center building, rejected the firm’s plan to turn the building into a Hotel Alessandra.

Two Canal Street received the lowest ranking of five submitted proposals from a city selection committee, while the proposal by the team of Carpenter and Co. and Woodward Design + Build to turn the building into a Four Seasons Hotel and condominiums was ranked the highest and ultimately was chosen.

Two Canal Street claims that its offer was a better deal for the city financially. It says the city violated a state public lease law that requires selecting the highest bidder and that the consultants who advised the selection committee and the NOBC board provided an incorrect and biased analysis. The NOBC maintains that it is exempt from the lease law.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in October. Meanwhile, the project faces delays as litigation continues.

Tuesday’s hearing was on whether and where Fisher, who bought Two Canal Street from its original owners for $10 before the firm filed its suit, should be required to give testimony in the suit.

Fisher has avoided giving a deposition for more than seven months in what attorneys for Carpenter and Woodward said were blatant delay attempts. He “dodged service and refused to accept service” when a process server tried to reach him in Florida, then refused to confirm his availability after being served, those attorneys said.

Attorney Russ Herman also accused Fisher — who is best known locally for failed redevelopment proposals for the Market Street Power Plant on Tchoupitoulas Street and the Plaza Tower on Howard Avenue — of running a sham operation. “Here is an individual that purchases for $10 a shell corporation, just to file suit,” Herman said, asking Judge Tiffany Chase to consider dismissing the suit entirely.

But Fisher’s attorney, Charline Gipson, told Chase that Fisher is not a party to the New Orleans suit and thus should have been deposed in Florida. She said his Florida attorney has responded to the Carpenter and Woodward attorneys’ requests but they have not gotten back to him since February.

Gipson said questions about the legitimacy of Fisher’s firm were not germane to Tuesday’s hearing.

Chase, while not ruling on whether Fisher’s firm is legitimate, seemed unimpressed with Gipson’s jurisdiction argument. “I do believe that if you are going to file a lawsuit in the state of Louisiana, in Orleans Parish, then you should be able to come to that parish to file a deposition,” she said, ordering Fisher to appear in court within the next month.

Gipson said Fisher plans to appeal.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.