The city is once again soliciting proposals to redevelop the former World Trade Center building at the foot of Canal Street.
The riverfront property is widely considered to be one of the most valuable sites in New Orleans, but the city has struggled for years to find someone to redevelop the long-vacant building, with repeated efforts coming to naught.
The latest RFP says the city hopes to create a “first-class commercial and/ or mixed-use project complementary to the adjacent land uses.” The request suggests that such projects could include converting the building for a hotel, luxury residential, retail or office space, with ground-level entertainment and public spaces.
The proposals must be privately financed, the RFP says. The plans will be evaluated on the development idea’s merit, the experience of the development team and its financial capability.
Developers must agree to set aside at least a 35 percent stake in the project for disadvantaged business enterprises.
Unlike in 2012, when the city last sought development proposals for the site, the city this time is considering only plans to redevelop the existing building at 2 Canal St. Two years ago, the city imposed “no limitations as to the type of redevelopment or use of the space” and specifically welcomed demolition of the 1960s office tower as an option.
A coalition of hospitality industry groups, called the Tricentennial Consortium, responded to that request with a proposal to tear down the building and replace it with an unspecified “iconic structure” akin to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. But that plan faced strong public opposition and was eventually ranked last by a city committee created to evaluate the three proposals received.
Cedric Grant, executive director of the city’s New Orleans Building Corp., said demolition is no longer an option for the building, partly because of the lessons learned in the previous effort and also because the building has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Being listed on the National Register does not place any restrictions or encumbrances on a property’s owners, nor does it prevent demolition, a spokesman for the National Register said. But listing on the registry does make any income generated by the historic building eligible for certain tax incentives.
The request to have the site listed on the register was made by Gatehouse Capital and DAG Development, the team picked to develop the building during the last RFP process.
Gatehouse and DAG’s plan to transform the 33-story building into a W Hotel and apartments beat out the two other proposals to win the exclusive right to negotiate a lease agreement for the site with the city. However, the NOBC terminated talks with the development team in April after the parties could not agree on financial terms, including the building’s value.
The city’s latest RFP reflects a response to that failure. The procurement process this time will involve two steps. The initial solicitation to potential developers is a request for qualifications.
Some developers from among those who respond will then be asked to submit more extensive proposals that include detailed drawings, costs, timelines and proposed financial payments to the city. Those ideas will also be presented in-person to a selection committee.
Unlike the last time, the committee will be able to select more than one project for the city to begin negotiating with. Grant said that change is both a matter of best practice and intended to guard against a repeat of April’s debacle, which was just the latest in a string of failed attempts to redevelop the building since the 1990s.
Pitting developers directly against each other in the negotiation process will make them “sharpen their pencils” and present their best offers to the city, Grant said.
The winning developer will enter into a lease agreement with the city of up to 99 years, an arrangement similar to what has been proposed in the past.
In August, the Bureau of Governmental Research urged the city to abandon its efforts to lease the property and instead sell it. Grant said the city considered an outright sale but decided against it because the property would have to be sold to the highest bidder at a surplus-property auction.
The city gained full operational control of the building in 2012 after paying the World Trade Center organization $2.3 million to buy out its lease on the building. Though the city owned the land, the World Trade Center organization built the tower, had offices there and had been responsible for its maintenance and insurance. The organization no longer has offices in the building.
The deadline for responding to the request for qualifications is Nov. 14. A “short list” of candidates moving on to the RFP round will be released Dec. 15. Those developers will have until Feb. 16 to submit the more detailed proposals, and the city expects to select a winner by March 23.