Preservationists and French Quarter residents were handed twin victories last week when controversial projects proposed for the Quarter and the Central Business District were withdrawn.
Developers, at least for now, will not move forward with a plan to demolish several mid-19th-century buildings at Canal and Tchoupitoulas streets and replace them with a 20-story hotel tower. The proposal has been panned by preservationists, the City Planning Commission and Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Also, the owners of the Musée Conti Historical Wax Museum have backed off a request to change the zoning of the Conti Street building to allow the opening of a restaurant at the site.
Both projects were to be considered by the City Council last week. The hotel proposal was withdrawn before the meeting. The announcement that the restaurant proposal has been abandoned came during the meeting.
The hotel proposal called for the demolition of all six historic buildings on the site, with the exception of the façades of 105, 109 and 111 Tchoupitoulas St., to make way for a Residence Inn and a SpringHill Suites hotel, one on top of the other and totaling 373 rooms. Both are Marriott brands. The new building was to be more than triple the height allowed for the site under its present zoning.
The project was first proposed more than a year ago, but it faced sharp opposition from the preservation community and neighbors because of the demolition and height waivers required.
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose district includes the site, asked in May that the plan be tabled while she worked with supporters and opponents to revise it. A new design, just as tall but incorporating the three old façades, was presented to the City Planning Commission earlier this month. The commission unanimously rejected it.
Landrieu aide Eric Granderson told the commission that the mayor did not support the project because of its modern design and the demolitions required to build it.
The proposal was presented by the development team of Wischermann Partners Inc. and Jayshree Hospitality. The property is owned by Kishore “Mike” Motwani, and the ground floors of the buildings there now are occupied by liquor stores and souvenir shops.
It is not clear whether another plan for the site will be introduced.
Telephone calls to the developers were not returned.
“It is an area that the councilwoman would like to see redeveloped,” a spokesman for Cantrell’s office said. “But any plan is going to have to be substantially different than what they’re proposing.”
The owners of the wax museum had been planning to sell the site to a buyer who intended to turn it into a restaurant, a proposal that would require changing the zoning from residential to commercial.
But some Quarter residents argued that such a change would allow for a wide range of undesirable commercial uses beyond a restaurant, which some neighbors might favor. The City Planning Commission staff, in recommending denial, also cited the need for more residential space in the French Quarter.
An attorney for the property owners had argued that the request should be granted because the property has been used commercially for many years and has no existing residences.
The wax museum has operated at the site since the mid-1960s, Jon “Chip” Leyens said. Ninety percent of the museum’s revenue is generated by a reception hall that has been in operation on the site since 2004, he said.
“This is a commercial property. It’s always been a commercial property,” Leyens told the City Planning Commission in February. “And we’re looking to continue the use as a commercial property.”
The Planning Commission and the Vieux Carre Commission both voted to deny the request.