01 June 2006

New Orleans Centre/Hyatt/City Hall/National Jazz Center Redevelopment Plan

An incredibly ambitious plan was announced Tuesday for the redevelopment of 20 acres of the New Orleans CBD bound by the Louisiana Superdome, the Hyatt Regency, and Duncan Plaza. The plan calls for the demolition of the Louisiana Supreme Court Building, the Louisiana State Office Building, the 1950's Urban Renewal 101 City Hall Building, the Civil Court Building, New Orleans Centre, and parts of the base floor "maze" sections of the Hyatt. Also, marked on the map above from the Times-Picayune also are "various low-rise buildings" riverside of Loyola Avenue marked for demolition as (marked #7) to be replaced with new presumably multi-story residential buildings. The current buildings are the remaining older 1920s or older properties that managed to escape the unfortunate great Houston speculative free-for-all take down in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for office towers that never materialized. Instead, the modern high-rise buildings wound up eventually being constructed along the Poydras corridor ten to twenty years later. The lone exception in this area: the asbestos-laden Plaza Tower--currently being retrofitted to become high-end condominiums--whose original developers gambled the high-rise corridor would be Howard Avenue and/or Loyola Avenue. Today, these handful of surviving mostly dilapidated buildings stand surrounded by large swaths of asphalt used as "pay" lots for the nearby office buildings. Its been obvious for years that the long-term chances of these buildings being retained was minimal at best.

The Times-Picayune article compares the design/concept to the recently opened Millenium Park alongside the Chicago Loop. Seems to me another comparison might be the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta which is another modern grand scale inner city public space. I am not necessarily against such a grand plan and reuse of this space--it is an interesting idea in a section of the CBD that sits there as a sort of no-mans land beyond events at the Dome. The elevation of the proposed public space above ground level (above floodstage) appears to be at the same level as the plaza surrounding the exterior of the Superdome and the existing New Orleans Centre entrance facing the Dome. In the proposal, the park space and a pedestrian bridge passes over a block or so segment of Poydras Street conceptually creating a gateway to Downtown. (I assume this is what the designers are thinking.) The one rendering that has been shown on several of the local news websites and on television is difficult to read. I look forward to seeing more renderings--and from different angles. There's not much on the web at this point showing many details of the layout.

Besides beer sales before Saints games at the Horn of Plenty convenience store, the New Orleans Centre during its 15+ years of existence never really had the sort of success surely anticipated. Lord and Taylor closed it's New Orleans Centre store before the storm and Macy's announced they would not be reopening their store post-KTMB after initially indicating they planned to. It's no surprise that the New Orleans Centre is viewed as expendable by developers. In the article the Hyatt guy states that his hotel sits isolated from the Vieux Carre and the Convention Center-aided boom in the Warehouse District over the past ten years. They see this project as a way to create an attraction at their front door. I thought it was also interesting in the article that the current site of the Hyatt was chosen in the early 1970's expecting large convention space (in addition to the Dome) to be developed in that area--I assume perhaps located between the Dome and the railroad tracks, the current location of the New Orleans Arena. The extension of the streetcar line along Loyola Avenue from Canal to the UPT (Union Passenger Terminal) has been the long-term goal since the Canal Street Streetcar Line re-introduction was in it's conceptual planning stages 15-20 years ago. In fact, the idea is that the Loyola extension would actually loop around the CBD into Central City and the Lower Garden District (Felicity Street) hooking up with the Riverfront Line.

It will be very interesting to see if this project becomes reality . . . I think the Hyatt Regency's parent company's involvement gives it a damn good chance.

I am sure I'll have more to say on this in the future . . . Not sure what I think about the concept or the design at this point.

TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, National Jazz Center, Superdome, Central Business District