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WTC moves a step closer to redevelopment

The World Trade Center built in the 1960's sits empty at foot of Canal Street. The World Trade Center built in the 1960's sits empty at foot of Canal Street.

New Orleans, La. –The World Trade Center commands attention at the foot of Canal Street, but some have said not for good reasons.

The towering building has been shuttered for a long time in an area where tourists flock. So Tuesday, a key decision about the building's future was made at City Hall.

"The number-one rated proposer is Gatehouse Capital receiving a total of 405 points out of a possible 500 points," said a member of the committee that evaluated three proposals for revamping the 33-story building.

Gatehouse Capital's plan calls for a hotel as well as residential units, along with a giant sky-wheel on the riverfront.

Concerns were voiced by the committee members about the Gatehouse proposal not having enough minority participation, known as DBE's, relating to the city's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.

"I think we've seen today they've got a solid financial proposal, a very good design that is feasible. I'm wholly dissatisfied with their effort to recruit local DBE's into their consortium. I appreciate their commitment, but I'm wholly dissatisfied with the evidence of their outreach to our contractors… secondly, I'm wholly dissatisfied with their proposed lease payment to the city, and if that was not substantially changed I urge the NOBC to not consummate a lease," stated CAO and Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin.

The New Orleans Building Corporation, or NOBC,  oversees the WTC. It must consider the RFP Evaluation Committee's recommendation. The NOBC includes members of the City Council and the mayor.

One of the other contenders was Burch, LLC., headed by Virginia businessman James Burch. That proposal called for a hotel and residential units, other business ventures, as well as minority participation of up to 40 percent, according to those familiar with it.

"We got local folks, people on the ground here... we are eight years after Katrina, trying to get our foot in the door again and again we get kicked out," said Rev. Tom Watson, a local pastor and community activist who is serving as a consultant for the Burch Group.

He said their commitment to pay the city $1.5 million a year in lease payments could help pay for the jail and NOPD consent decrees.

"This group was willing to say we will ensure that there's enough money to get into the city coffers to pay for those decrees," said Watson.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the outcome today," said Kelly Schulz, vice-president of communications and public relations for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She was responding on behalf of the third and final proposer, the Tri-Centennial Consortium, made up of local tourism and hospitality industry organizations. That group proposed tearing down the WTC and replacing it with an iconic structure that would serve to attract more visitors to the city. Proponents said it would be akin to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Some of the committee members said, while the ideas were good, the proposals lacked specificity.

"I believe at the end of the day what they've presented to us was a way to move forward on the civic component of this project and not a specific plan," said Committee member Cindy Connick.

Earlier this summer, the Tri-Centennial Consortium suffered a setback when Governor Bobby Jindal vetoed legislation that would have allowed the Ernest. N. Morial Convention Center to put up $25 million towards the WTC project.

"I think that that probably had an impact but our coalition was prepared to come to the table with funding and make this project a reality," stated Schulz.

Preservationists want the building preserved.

"I'm just going to reiterate PRC supports maintaining this building," said Michelle Kimble of the Preservation Resource Center.

Watson is holding out hope that the NOBC will take another look at all the proposers. "I think the group will keep an open mind. You gotta remember, City Council folks have to deal with this," he said.

For its part, the Tri-Centennial Consortium just hopes that some component of its public space idea will be a part of the final WTC project.

"We're still hoping that we can take a leadership role in incorporating some sort of public space on the site to accompany the hotel or restaurant, or whatever's being developed there. We really feel like it's important to return that space to public use," said Schulz.

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