At the request of City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, developers who proposed demolishing six Central Business District buildings to make room for a 21-story hotel tower have withdrawn their plans.
The council had been scheduled to decide Thursday on the appeal by the developers — Wischermann Partners Inc. and Jayshree Hospitality — whether to overturn a recommendation by the CBD panel of the Historic District Landmarks Commission to quash the $120 million project at Canal and Tchoupitoulas streets.
The site is in Cantrell’s district.
The plan was expected to face strong opposition from preservationists and some nearby residents, who said it was too big for the location. The proposed building would have been more than three times as tall as the site’s zoning allows.
In its consideration of the project, the council had to weigh the value of preserving historical buildings against the desire to promote growth in a long-underused section of the city’s downtown.
Cantrell said she plans to work with the developers to establish “an open public process that involves residents, preservationists and other concerned parties to figure out a path forward.”
The developers had proposed replacing the antebellum buildings at Canal and Tchoupitoulas with a 250-foot-high hotel. The building also would have a 100-foot spire, bringing the total height to 350 feet.
Two Marriott-branded hotels, a Residence Inn and a Springhill Suites, would have been housed in the 373-room facility, one on top of the other. A 168-space parking garage would have occupied several of the building’s lower levels.
The developers were seeking permission to demolish six buildings — at 408 and 422 Canal St. and 103, 105, 109 and 111 Tchoupitoulas St.
They also were seeking a height waiver because the site carries a height restriction of 70 feet.
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 trinkets.
Motwani owns a number of such stores and is a controversial figure in and around the French Quarter, 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.
Some of the buildings have other floors that are vacant or used only for storage.
The site is ripe for development, Cantrell said.
“I have described this particular area as an armpit, because it is truly problematic and deters from present projects — the Riverwalk outlet mall, the ferry terminal and the World Trade Center,” Cantrell said. “If constructed properly, the site could host a landmark development that would produce millions in tax dollars and spur further development.”
But that development should not come at the cost of preservation, she said.
The HDLC staff recommended denial of the demolition requests for four of the buildings, saying that three of them — 105, 109 and 111 Tchoupitoulas — should be preserved because of their age, origins, history and masonry construction, despite a history of neglect.
The original owner of 109 Tchoupitoulas, for instance, was Paul Tulane, for whom Tulane University is named. The staff said the other building that should not be demolished, 422 Canal St., was once occupied by prominent architect James Freret.
It suggested the developers find a way to retain the four buildings that have architectural or historical importance.
The project’s architect said doing so would not be cost-effective because keeping those buildings as they exist wouldn’t allow for the parking garage or the 22 rooms per floor necessary to make the project financially feasible.
“This has been a very difficult situation and one that my office and I have worked on for a long time. It has reminded me that the council has yet to include a preservation plan as part of the city’s master plan, which was approved in 2010,” Cantrell said.
“Considering how much development is now taking place and the large number of historic buildings that exist in New Orleans, we need to find a way to incorporate new construction into the fabric of our historic sites. This is crucial, and I hope over the next three months that this group will not only solve the Canal Street issue but will provide a road map for a much-needed preservation plan,” she said.