Published: Friday, February 26, 1993
The City Planning Commission should not vote today on its staff recommendations on the proposed casino at the Rivergate location. The commission received the recommendations only yesterday and the casino proposal is too important to the city's present and future to be decided virtually overnight.
The commission staff held hearings in the process of drawing up its comments and recommendations. Now the full commission should also allow citizens and citizens' groups to comment on the staff's recommendations before reaching its own decision.
There is no reason for a pell-mell dash to decision other than Mayor Barthelemy's target date of March 4 to present the matter to the City Council, and that target date is purely arbitrary. It could be set back to allow enough time for all to have their say on this fundamental issue.
And many do still want to have their say. They should be heard.
Wednesday a coalition of nine neighborhood associations severely criticized the proposal of developers Christopher Hemmeter and Daniel Robinowitz. This would replace the Rivergate with a gigantic casino that would be the biggest in the world, close the two blocks of Canal Street at the river for a glitzy park with water and laser shows and build a nine-story parking garage that would overpower the downtown flank of the Warehouse District.
The group included the Coliseum Square Association, the Historic Faubourg Lafayette Association, the Riverfront Civic Association and the Historic Faubourg St. Mary Corp. The coalition made its own recommendations, basing its expectation of an honest hearing on Mr. Robinowitz's pledge to modify the developers' plan if the public demands it and his statement that he and Mr. Hemmeter do in fact plan to revise the project, although they have not revealed any details.
Further, about two dozen architects, members of the New Orleans chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the same day approved an eight-point critique and recommendations heavily critical of the Hemmeter-Robinowitz plan to tear down the Rivergate, close Canal Street and raze five historic buildings for the parking garage.
The public, and particularly those among the public who are recognized and experienced champions of the city's unique character, both as to buildings and as to the human community, clearly wants to know as much as it can about what is proposed and how the city's professionals are making important decisions.
The Planning Commission rarely votes immediately after receiving its staff's recommendations on important issues, but regularly takes weeks for hearings and discussions before making decisions on relatively minor proposals. A proposal like this one, which, despite whatever benefits its supporters claim it will bring, poses enormous threats to the human and physical fabric of our downtown riverfront and indeed the city as a whole, demands far more than a proposal to open a sweetshop on a neighborhood corner.
If it doesn't get it, the public, already suspicious of done deals behind politicians' and developers' doors, will feel that they and their city have been cheated before there even is a casino.
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