Published: Thursday, February 25, 1993
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B2
Byline: By BRUCE EGGLER Staff writer


A group of New Orleans architects Wednesday urged casino developer Christopher Hemmeter not to tear down the Rivergate building, not to close two blocks of Canal Street for a park and not to bulldoze five historic buildings.

The New Orleans chapter of the American Institute of Architects approved an eight-point statement critical of Hemmeter's plans. Chapter President George Hero said he will present the group's views today at a City Planning Commission hearing on the casino project.

With about two dozen architects voting, the chapter decided to urge Hemmeter not to tear down the Rivergate building but to adapt it for use as a casino. "Although not presently considered a historic landmark, the building, with its unique style, open structure and position in the Central Business District, merits careful consideration as a valuable piece of modern architecture," a statement approved by the chapter said.

The group also voted to:

Oppose Hemmeter's proposal to close two blocks of Canal Street for a 13-acre park.

Recommend that the proposed Canal Street streetcar line be connected at the foot of Canal to the Riverfront line.

Oppose Hemmeter's plan to demolish five 19th century buildings to make room for a 3,000-car parking garage.

Urge that the parking garage be reduced in height and bulk. Oppose the closing of the Lafayette Street pedestrian mall at Convention Center Boulevard, as proposed by Hemmeter.

In what Hero said is probably a futile gesture, the chapter also voted to oppose placing the casino at the Rivergate site, as specified in the state's 1992 casino law and in the city selection process that resulted in Mayor Sidney Barthelemy's choosing Hemmeter to build the casino.

"A project such as this could be a catalyst for future development of an area of the city that needs development," rather than the increasingly crowded riverfront area, Hero said.

The group acted after hearing talks by Paul Ma, Hemmeter's principal architect on the project, and lawyer William Borah, who said he "intensely dislikes" Hemmeter's proposals.

Ma said he and Hemmeter will be responsive to all suggestions for changes in the casino plans.

Along with Ma and two out-of-state firms, Hemmeter has picked six local firms to design various parts of the project. The firms are Eskew-Filson Architects, the Mathes Group, Billes-Manning Architects, Hewitt-Washington and Associates, Concordia Architects and I. William Sizeler.

Copyright The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.