THE GRAND PLAN

WHARF CASINO REINS IN GLITZ

Published: Wednesday, June 29, 1994
Edition: THIRD
Section: NATIONAL
Page: A1
Byline: By TYLER BRIDGES Staff writer

Text:

After being criticized in 1992 and 1993 for proposing land casino complexes that included a boat ride through a New Orleans "shantytown," a lagoon at the foot of Canal Street and a gaudy replica of a French opera house, casino developer Christopher Hemmeter is taking a more modest approach with his plans for a riverboat casino complex just upriver from the Crescent City Connection.

Plans he unveiled Tuesday call for a $192 million development consisting of two boats, a large terminal and lots of parking. Hemmeter's company, Grand Palais Riverboat Inc., and New Jersey-based Crescent City Development Corp. would operate their boats separately but share the terminal and parking.

As sketched in a presentation before the Dock Board, the terminal, to be built on the Robin Street and Orange Street wharves, will include a waterfall, tall trees and as many as three restaurants. But Hemmeter has dropped plans for luxury suites for high-rollers, an entertainment hall and a hotel - ideas he had floated when the boats were to be berthed behind the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center at the Julia Street Wharf.

"I thought the plans were notable for their understatement," said J. Ron Brinson, president of the Port of New Orleans, which controls the wharves where the boats are to be docked. "It seems to emphasize function."

Grand Palais officials Tom Robinson and Billy Broadhurst said the less ambitious plans were appropriate for the site, which adjoins the site of the planned third phase of the Convention Center.

Broadhurst said the development would look something like the Star Casino complex at South Shore Harbor on Lake Pontchartrain, which features a boat, a terminal and a large parking lot.

Broadhurst said economics in part dictated the more modest approach.

A Wall Street analyst familiar with the project said he thought Crescent City, a fledgling company, kept Hemmeter from including the glitz for which he is known.

Broadhurst said financing for the project is in place. Details were not available.

The complex would be built on a 49-acre tract, now filled with weeds and debris, that is owned by developer Joseph Canizaro and two partners. They are scheduled to sell the property to Grand Palais and Crescent City on July 8, Robinson said.

Broadhurst said the riverboat complex doesn't need to be flashy because it has so many advantages: parking for 1,500 cars next to the terminal, visibility from the Pontchartrain Expressway and easy access after an exit from the expressway onto Annunciation Street is built next year for riverbound traffic.

Broadhurst said the problems that the Queen of New Orleans riverboat casino has encountered contributed to the thinking that parking and high visibility are keys to a gambling boat's success on the New Orleans riverfront. The Queen, which is tucked behind the New Orleans Hilton Hotel and whose closest parking lot is three blocks away, is winning about $32 per gambler, far below what company officials had projected.

But before the Dock Board and the City Planning Commission can begin serious consideration of the Hemmeter plan, Grand Palais and Crescent City have to resolve a dispute over 100 feet of the wharf space they plan to use. That space, under contract to the Delta Queen Steamship Co., is now used for parking, Broadhurst said.

Delta Queen, which operates overnight cruise ships, is willing to give up the space but is demanding, among other concessions, $4.5 million and 250 feet of wharf space two blocks downriver at Thalia Street, a Dock Board official said.

Broadhurst said the demands are unrealistic, a belief echoed by William Slatten, chairman of the Dock Board.

Calling Delta's demands "absurd" and a potential roadblock to the riverboat development, Slatten said, "If they're going to cost the city and the Dock Board money, we'll do everything we can to aggravate them in the future when they come to us asking for extra dock space."

The city and the Dock Board each will collect $2.50 for every passenger on the gambling boats.

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#ART:

Proposed riverboat casino complex

GRAPHIC

Illustration: An artist rendering shows the proposed gambling complex just upriver from the Crescent City Connection. [COLOR]

This is the site Hemmeter wants to develop, looking north from near Race Street towards the Crescent City Connection.[COLOR]

STAFF PHOTO BY TED JACKSON



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