Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Developers hoping to save an Edward Durell Stone tower want to build a "tribute" tourist trap next door.
The property at 2 Canal Street has been languishing along the New Orleans Skyline since the late 1990s. Still vacant after a few failed attempts by the city to redevelop it, the old tower may soon get a facelift, just in time for the city's 300th birthday in 2018. And it would come with a new gondola roller coaster next door.
One the finalists in the city's latest request for proposals for 2 Canal Street announced late last week that it's teaming up with US Thrill Rides to build a "Tricentennial Tower" next door if its redevelopment proposal is chosen. That's the same company behind Orlando's plans for a skyscraper roller coaster anchored by the "World’s Largest Perkins® Restaurant & Bakery."
It's yet another twist in a long effort to save 2 Canal Street. Designed by modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, the 33-story tower debuted in 1967 as a giant compass of sorts, its four "wings," according to Docomomo, aligned with the cardinal directions. Stone's son, Hicks Stone, has previously said, "if they [New Orleans] demolish father’s building, they are destroying the best contemporary high-rise that they have."
City officials have been especially eager to find new suitors for the tower since the World Trade Center New Orleans moved out in 2011. (A rooftop bar closed first, in 2005.) In 2013, a round of proposals for redevelopment included a group of New Orleans tourism organizations who planned to demolish the tower and replace it with an "iconic" new one. The city picked a different group, which offered to spend $190 million to preserve 2 Canal Street—proposing to turn it into apartments and a W hotel. Talks, however, ended on a sour note, with both sides failing to come to terms on money. Another RFP was issued last October.
The latest proposal, by Two Canal Street Investors, includes a luxury hotel and revolving rooftop jazz club for $228 million. In addition, and on top of those costs, would come a new development next door, the Tricentennial Tower, which would look a lot like its half-century-old neighbor. Renderings depict a tower base with four wings and a circular observation deck that goes out of its way to reference Stone's design.
If city officials do choose TCSI's project, the tower will feature local architecture firm Perez's second New Orleans gondola project. Former firm president, the late August Perez III, headed the design and planning behind the United States' first gondola transit system (Mississippi Aerial Rapid Transit), which debuted in 1984. Built to shuttle Louisiana World Exposition visitors and local commuters over the Mississippi River, MART ran out of money quickly, shutting down in 1985 and defaulting on an $8 million loan before U.S. marshals seized the remains of the system and put it up for auction.
This gondola project would be far less ambitious. Gondolas would glide on a roller-coaster track around the 320-foot-tall tower, and take riders to and from an observation deck with a restaurant and a "New Orleans 360 Interactive Experience."
If the real world is at Peak Ferris Wheel, the Internet has to be nearing Peak Gondola. But a gondola roller coaster, if built, is at least an upgrade in view-seeking gimmickry. Gliding up, down, and around in a double-helix tower is way more fun than a slow, jerky lap around a wheel. Most importantly, it'd help add new life to a struggling but significant neighbor.