Published: Wednesday, October 13, 1993
Edition: THIRD
Page: A1
Byline: By TYLER BRIDGES and FRANK DONZE Staff writers


After weeks of speculation, Harrah's Jazz Co. will unveil a proposal today to demolish the Rivergate and build a huge 200,000-square-foot casino scheduled to open in January 1995, sources said Tuesday.

Harrah's officials are also expected to announce at a news conference that they have agreed to Mayor Sidney Barthelemy's demands that their temporary casino be set up in Municipal Auditorium, sources said.

Gov. Edwards, who was briefed on the plans Tuesday, said the temporary casino will open Feb. 1, although other sources said that date is unrealistic.

The sources said the temporary casino could open in mid- to late February, but only if there are no complications in negotiations with city officials and the state casino board, which must give final approval to any plan.

Plans call for Harrah's to spend about $15 million to renovate the auditorium into an 80,000-square-foot casino.

The Rivergate casino will feature a 330,000-square-foot building evoking a melange of 19th century New Orleans landmarks, including the St. Charles Hotel, the French Opera House and Gallier Hall. The building is being designed by the local architectural firm of Perez, Ernst, Farnet.

The as-yet-unnamed casino would have four entrances, with the main one facing the corner of Canal and South Peters streets.

The building is less ornate than the Grand Palais proposed by developer Christopher Hemmeter, but fancier than the casino first envisioned by Harrah's Jazz, which called for renovating and sprucing up the Rivergate.

The Harrah's Jazz casino is projected to cost more than $200 million, compared with $280 million for the Grand Palais.

City officials, who have said they are largely satisfied with the design, prodded Harrah's Jazz into coming up with what they call "a world-class facility."

By giving in on both of the city's major demands - to tear down the Rivergate and use the auditorium - Harrah's fulfilled Edwards' Aug. 25 statements when he announced that Harrah's Jazz and Hemmeter had agreed to join forces. Edwards said the Rivergate would be torn down and the temporary casino would go in the auditorium.

Harrah's Jazz officials have said it will take 15 months to construct their casino. But city officials question whether they can meet the deadline, warning that they will not permit construction to interrupt surrounding businesses and hotels.

The casino will have 200,000 square feet of gambling space on the ground floor, which would make it the world's biggest casino.

A mezzanine would provide an additional 30,000 square feet, which will be used for a 250-seat dining area, VIP lounges and possibly some retail areas.

The casino, as required by state law, will not have hotel rooms or restaurants.

Hemmeter, a one-third partner in the venture, had proposed to build much of the Grand Palais gaming space underground, but Harrah's Jazz plans to use the existing space under the Rivergate for 700 parking spaces and to add about 100,000 square feet of office space for back-of-the-house business operations.

The interior design of the casino is not available because Harrah's Jazz has not had time to produce drawings. An official said the exterior drawings were completed Monday.

Harrah's Jazz proposes to connect the casino to a six-story parking garage across Poydras Street by way of a glass-enclosed aerial walkway. Plans also call for a separate four-story garage across Lafayette Street from the larger garage. Together, the two garages will provide about 2,100 parking spaces.

Preservationists and Warehouse District residents have urged that casino customers use city streets to get from the garage to the casino, thereby providing a stream of customers for neighborhood businesses.

Unlike the Grand Palais, which would have had lavish gardens, there will be little green space at the Harrah's Jazz casino because the building will occupy most of the 7.5-acre Rivergate site. But the plans call for landscaping surrounding streets and building a large fountain near Canal Street.

Before the casino can be built, the plans must be reviewed by the City Planning Commission and approved by the City Council. Casino officials hope to win final approval from the state casino board by Thanksgiving.

A lawsuit by lawyer Thomas Tucker could hold up the project, however. Tucker contends that the city does not have rights to the Rivergate property because of an 1851 agreement between the city of New Orleans and a group of people who owned land at what is now the Rivergate site.

Tucker has said he will drop the lawsuit if the city and Harrah's Jazz agree not to demolish the Rivergate.

City officials feared until Tuesday that they would remain in disagreement with Harrah's over the site for the temporary casino, which could have dampened today's announcement. But Ronald Lenczycki, Harrah's top local official; Wendell Gauthier, representing the 10 investors known as the Jazzville Group; and Hemmeter told Edwards on Tuesday that they will place the temporary casino in the Municipal Auditorium.

Harrah's officials had wanted to build a temporary casino on Canal Street across from the Rivergate, but Barthelemy insisted that it go in the city-owned auditorium to help revitalize North Rampart Street and the Treme neighborhood, to ensure the renovation of the 63-year-old auditorium and to allow the city to receive rent payments.

A source said Harrah's officials agreed to use the auditorium because city officials refused to consider a temporary casino site on Canal Street, where they feared it would cause intolerable noise and traffic congestion.

Edwards also pressured Harrah's to reconsider the auditorium location, sources said.









Demolish Rivergate and replace with a $200 million-plus building.

Create 1,200 construction jobs and 4,500 permanent casino jobs.

Open January 1995

Create world's largest casino at 200,000 square feet.

Design to evoke several 19th century New Orleans buildings.


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