It was supposed to be the tallest building in Louisiana: a 70-story Trump International Hotel & Tower, a $400 million project that was slated to transform a Poydras Street parking lot into a luxury high-rise with more than 700 condominium and hotel units.
But more than a decade later, the site remains a parking lot.
Experts say blame for the proposal’s demise doesn’t fall entirely on Donald Trump, the New York real estate mogul and Republican presidential front-runner who is scheduled to hold a rally Friday in New Orleans ahead of the state’s primary Saturday.
Trump announced plans to join a team of Florida developers in the project only days before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, devastating the region’s economy and upending many major real estate projects. In the storm’s immediate aftermath, plans were further plagued by rising labor and building materials costs, as well as the fallout of the 2008 nationwide financial crisis.
The high-profile project was considered a key piece of Poydras Street’s revival. Mayor Ray Nagin was an enthusiastic supporter, calling the project “international news” and encouraging Trump to push ahead with a second skyscraper.
Later news stories suggested that Trump’s involvement in the project consisted mainly of lending his name to it.
Plans for the tower, slated to be the first high-rise built in the city in many years, called for two rooftop pools, a five-star restaurant and retail space. The building would have eclipsed One Shell Square as the city’s tallest structure.
At the time of Trump’s announcement, developers envisioned selling the units for an average of $450 per square foot. A year later, The Times-Picayune reported that price tag had jumped to as high as $700 per square foot, while the anticipated cost of construction had more than doubled.
Developers promised the development would create hundreds of jobs and generate almost $12 million a year in tax revenue. Prices for the units started at $400,000 for a studio and climbed to a few million dollars for a penthouse suite.
But even though a sales office opened inside the nearby Pan-American Building, the site — bounded by Poydras, Camp, Natchez and Magazine streets — saw little activity for years after the storm, outside of a mural touting the development that adorned an adjacent brick building.
“Certainly, there was a big buzz surrounding that project,” said Kurt Weigle, president of the Downtown Development District. “I got questions for years after it was first announced asking if it was going to proceed.”
Eventually, the property was sold at a foreclosure auction in 2011 for $6.5 million to Jim Huger, the chief executive of Premium Parking Service LLC, property records show.
Neither David Brannen, a Florida developer who was involved in the project, nor Stephen Dwyer, a New Orleans attorney who represented the developers, responded to messages seeking comment Thursday.
But in recent years, as the Central Business District has brimmed with construction activity — more than a dozen hotel projects, valued at nearly $1 billion, have been proposed or are under construction — condo prices on average range from about $300 a square foot on the low end to as high as $500 a square foot.
If Trump Tower had been built a decade ago, it likely would have increased the value of other properties in the area, said Lenny Wormser, senior managing director of Latter & Blum’s hospitality division. He said that role is now expected to be played by the planned Four Seasons Hotel, a $380 million project slated for the site of the former World Trade Center building.
But it’s unclear if the city could have supported two large-scale luxury properties, Wormser said, and he likes how it all has worked out for the city in the long run.
Trump Tower “wouldn’t have garnered the kind of gravitas” as the Four Seasons project, he said.
Weigle agreed, saying that Trump Tower’s flame-out “doesn’t impact us one way or the other,” given the pace of recent Central Business District construction, though he acknowledged that it’s “generally a good thing when major brands like the Trump brand have an interest in investing in your city.”
The building’s proposed height might not have fit in well with the city’s landscape, he said, although if it was going to be built, Poydras Street was the right spot for it.
“I don’t think that people know New Orleans by the size of our towers,” he said. “People fall in love with New Orleans because it’s a walkable city, it has buildings that are built to a human scale, and I think that’s going to continue to be our trademark.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.