Published: Thursday, July 7, 1994
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B1
Byline: By BRUCE EGGLER Staff writer


If the city's historic preservation agency gets its way, Harrah's Jazz Co. will renovate the Rivergate for use as a casino, not tear it down to build a grandiose new gambling palace.

But Harrah's lease with the city for the Rivergate site requires demolition, and neither the City Council nor the state casino board seems inclined to reopen the issue.

As the climax to months of review of Harrah's plans for the casino, the Central Business District Historic District Landmarks Commission this week passed a resolution calling the Rivergate "a better example of architectural design and a better facility than the proposed casino."

At a meeting Tuesday, the commission also cited several criticisms of the casino plans presented by Harrah's architects.

The commission asked lead architect Stewart Farnet to meet again with its Architectural Review Committee to discuss the criticisms, although he rejected most of them during the meeting.

The City Planning Commission was expected to consider the casino's design at its meeting next week, but Executive Director Kristina Ford said she may delay the discussion two weeks to let Farnet confer again with the Landmarks Commission's architects.

The Planning Commission must approve Harrah's plans for the exterior of the casino before the company can start demolishing the Rivergate. Harrah's hopes to sign an operating contract with the state casino board within 10 days and to start demolition in mid-August, at the same time it would begin renovating the Municipal Auditorium for use as a temporary casino.

Because the Rivergate is not an official city landmark or in a designated historic district, the Landmarks Commission has no authority over it, but the group has been asked to make recommendations to the Planning Commission and City Council.

Regardless of the commission's views, however, a majority of the seven-member council appears to favor demolishing the Rivergate. A resolution to reaffirm the previous council's position in favor of demolition is on the agenda for today's council meeting.

Councilmen Troy Carter, Roy Glapion, Jim Singleton and Oliver Thomas have indicated they favor the resolution, although some want to hear Mayor Marc Morial's views before voting. Councilwomen Peggy Wilson and Suzanne Terrell favor renovating the 1960s convention center. Councilwoman Ellen Hazeur's position is not known.

In its resolution, the Landmarks Commission called on Farnet and Harrah's to:

Move some gambling activity from the first floor to the second floor to allow a reduction in the casino's ground-level "footprint" and more open green space. Farnet said the building has been reduced from 222,000 square feet to 212,000 square feet and will be smaller than the Rivergate.

Move some support operations from a parking garage across Poydras Street to the casino's second floor. Farnet said he thought that issue was settled when Harrah's agreed to reduce the size of both planned parking garages.

Add more vehicular dropoff points and redesign the casino's five-lane covered riverside dropoff to make it safer. Farnet said the covered dropoff will operate safely and more points are not needed because many customers will walk to the casino from hotels.

Redesign the casino's outside walls to make them less oppressive to pedestrians. Farnet said the walls have been changed to include pilasters, arched porticos and other elements making them seem less massive.

Copyright The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.