For some years, the International Trade Mart skyscraper (known as the World Trade Center), in a prime location at the head of Canal Street that overlooks the Mississippi River, has been vacant. The imposing building was once the site of the World Trade Center organization and the tony Plimsoll Club, and housed numerous offices relating to the port, international business and trade representatives. Both the WTC and the Plimsoll Club are now located in Canal Place. The Trade Mart building contained a fabulous revolving bar—the site of many a high school prom dinner—that rotated 360 degrees to showcase its location overlooking the river. The building has been vacated and was purchased by the city, which recently issued a request for proposal to redevelop the site.
The building is in a prime—I mean really prime—location for a fantastic tourist destination: a hotel, a park, a monument, a museum on a grand scale.
In the meantime, the “Tricentennial Consortium,” composed of the usual suspects who lead the city’s tourism efforts, proposed a broad vision for revamping the Central Business District riverfront by 2018, the 300th anniversary of the city’s founding. According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the project is designed to “revitalize the World Trade Center property, Riverfront and Spanish Plaza, re-imagine the traffic patterns at the feet of both Poydras and Canal Streets and commence the redevelopment of Convention Center Boulevard and the much-anticipated development of the parcel of land upriver from the Convention Center [the huge lot in front of Mardi Gras World].” The Consortium says it is dedicated to securing a major increase in marketing resources to make New Orleans “nationally competitive.”
Several groups have responded to the city’s RFP; some have proposed renovating the WTC tower into a hotel or a mixed-use development with retail and residential components, a music club, and “Tricentennial Sky Wheel,” at Spanish Plaza, a smaller version of the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. Finally, the last proposal came from the Tricentennial Consortium itself that proposed a “Tricentennial Tower” that would be New Orleans’ version of the Eiffel Tower or the St. Louis Arch.
Sometimes the planners can’t see the forest for the trees.
If these people could expand their vision (maybe some new blood is needed in this group), they might consider the construction a world-class, architecturally-significant structure dedicated to New Orleans’ greatest attraction—her music. This is far and above the best location and an ideal use for this property. I would urge the members of the Tricentennial Consortium to look at Nashville, which has constructed the marvelous Country Music Hall of Fame; Seattle, whose Experience Music Project, designed by rock star architect Frank O. Gehry, and which is adjacent to the Space Needle and Seattle Monorail; and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located overlooking Lake Erie and designed by another prominent architect, I.M. Pei.
The Louisiana State Museum at the Old Mint is still trying to assemble the funding to finish the proposed music museum on its second floor. That project is mired in funding issues and having to deal with the state of Louisiana, which isn’t all that keen on doing anything to show favoritism to New Orleans. Moreover—let’s face it—a museum buried in the Old Mint has nowhere near the prominence of a location at the head of Canal Street.
The best bet to make this happen is to coalesce the members of the Tricentennial Consortium to get behind a music museum and monument. Tricentennials come and go (and frankly, I don’t know how many people are going to get excited about a tower celebrating our 300th birthday 10 or 20 years from now. But the music of the city is deeply rooted; it’s an ongoing source of attraction for locals and visitors and a museum and attraction dedicated to music will have a much, much stronger appeal both now and in the future.
Why aren’t our tourism leaders considering this avenue for development of the World Trade Center site?