House passes amended bill aimed at World Trade Center redevelopment litigation _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- World Trade Center in New Orleans.

The Louisiana House on Friday unanimously approved a bill aimed at the type of lawsuit that has delayed redevelopment of the old World Trade Center building in New Orleans.

The bill heads next to the Senate, which approved a different version earlier and must agree to a series of amendments added in the House before the bill goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature. The legislative session ends at 6 p.m. Monday.

Senate Bill 447, backed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, originally was intended to give public benefit corporations wide latitude in awarding leases for public redevelopment projects. It also would have required developers to put up potentially millions of dollars in cash or a bond before they can challenge such lease awards in court.

Although it would apply to corporations around the state, it was aimed at upholding the actions of the New Orleans Building Corp. That agency and Landrieu are waging a legal war against Two Canal Street Investors Inc., a firm that put in a proposal to revamp the WTC building and lost, then sued the city and the agency for $500 million in damages.

The Senate voted 36-1 for that version of the bill in April. But in an attempt at compromise, the House significantly modified it. Rather than requiring legal challengers to put up an amount equal to or greater than the rent the city would have received over the first few years of the contested lease, as Landrieu wanted, the bill now does not specify a minimum.

However, it speeds up the timeline for the resolution of such lawsuits, a win for Landrieu. It says such cases must go to trial within two months of their filing and must be ruled upon within 20 days after the trial has ended. Any appeals must be filed within a month of a district court’s judgment, and an appellate court must rule within two months of receiving the appeal.

The amended bill also requires corporations tasked with choosing property developers to consider the proposals that generate the “highest return of revenue and benefits” to the city. It deletes language Landrieu wanted that would have allowed those agencies to use their “discretion and business judgment” when choosing developers.

Because of the changes made by the House, the bill must go back to the Senate for its approval before it becomes law.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.