Published: Tuesday, April 4, 1995
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B1
Byline: By FRANK DONZE Staff writer


Construction of the world's largest casino will begin as soon as demolition of the Rivergate convention center is completed in mid-April, Harrah's Jazz Co. officials told the state casino board Monday.

The initial construction will be underground, and the casino's steel framework will not start to appear for several weeks, said Ron Lenczycki, president of Harrah's Casino New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Lenczycki said, renovation of the Municipal Auditorium is proceeding on schedule for a May 1 opening of Harrah's temporary casino.

He said the company has not decided how a court order that bans it from demolishing the Place de France will affect the permanent casino's design.

In January, a federal judge ordered the casino developers not to demolish the Place de France, between the Rivergate and the World Trade Center, without approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Harrah's final decision will be dictated by the federal government, Lenczycki said.

If the Interior Department rejects Harrah's request to change the plaza's use and move its centerpiece statue of Joan of Arc, the company will be forced to change the casino's design, he said.

Harrah's wants to move the 13-foot-high equestrian statue, which was donated to the city by the French government around 1960, to an undetermined site.

While the casino's footprint does not include the plaza, eliminating it will affect plans for the streetscape and force architects to move a wall inward.

Lenczycki said a decision on the casino's design must be made soon because steel and other building materials will begin to arrive on the site this month. Only a small portion of the Rivergate remains standing as demolition crews work round the clock to bring it down.

Architects estimate that eliminating the plaza from the project's design would wipe out about 14,000 square feet of the building's 440,000 square feet on two levels, Lenczycki said. The redesign would not reduce the planned 200,000 square feet of gambling space, he said.

Lenczycki said it is unclear what impact a redesign would have on the project's $815 million price tag.

The Louisiana Landmarks Society went to court to block demolition of the plaza, which also features two Napoleonic-era cannons.

In granting the society's request, U.S. District Judge A.J. McNamara noted that city officials received a federal grant in 1971 for half the $204,000 cost of building the Place de France. He also found that the plaza involves "historic purposes."

The two conditions trigger a provision of a federal law that requires the Interior Department's approval, McNamara said.

Copyright The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.