|THE RIVERGATE||title page | contents | appendices | cd-book cover|
the rivergate could have been for the city
by nathaniel curtis and michael rouchell
|I.||Advantages Of Adaptive Reuse Presented To The Morial Administration|
|II.||The Rivergate As A Casino|
|III.||Friends Of Rivergate Adaptive Design Proposals|
As we view highlights of past events -- Harrah's bankruptcy, the overnight loss of 3,300 temporary casino and construction jobs, the mounds of lawsuits that have ensued, unrealized city income built into the budget, and the irreversible loss of public property -- adaptive reuse of the Rivergate made good sense for the City.
In the spring and summer of 1994, Friends of Rivergate presented plans, perspective drawings, cost estimates, and a list of adaptive reuse advantages to Mayor Marc Morial and members of the City Council.
Adaptive Reuse Advantages
Marc Morial's campaign for mayor was designed around "A New Direction For New Orleans." The young Morial's campaign managers touted him as a new breed of public servant. It was the hope of Friends of Rivergate that the new Mayor Morial would be different from his predecessor and would be interested to learn -- at no charge to the city -- from the designer-planner component of Friends of Rivergate -- none of whom was scouting for work -- the most economical, prudent, and beneficial course of action for a casino building in New Orleans.
Unfortunately for the City, the new Mayor Morial, with the orchestrated vote of the majority of the City Council, pushed hard to enforce the deals cut by the previous Barthelemy administration.
City Hall Reasons For Razing The Rivergate
Size Of The Rivergate
Conversion Of The
Building Labor Intensive
Asbestos, A Political
Excuse Not Sound Reason To Tear Down The Rivergate
In 1987, when the Dock Board was owner and operator of the Rivergate, some of the asbestos was removed. Most of what remained was in the form of asbestos felts used as roof covering in a location where it posed no danger to anyone. There is, however, official hysteria about the presence of any asbestos fiber. According to Michael J. Alline, M.D., "Most asbestos removal projects are a boondoggle, allowing politically connected contractors to get rich at the taxpayers' expense" (Alline 1996).
Harrah's Massive Casino
Not A Magic Formula To Revitalize Canal Street
The bush-hammered exterior concrete finish, often criticized by the general public, could have been reclad in a different material giving the building a new look. The construction budget for the casino was generous enough to have allowed the walls to be clad in the most exotic marble or granite available. For $825 million, the total amount spent by Harrah's, the Rivergate's exterior surfaces could have been covered with gold leaf!
The design professionals associated with Friends of Rivergate took on the task of adaptive reuse of the building and provided an alternative schematic design with a cost estimate -- at no charge to the City or the developer. Friends of Rivergate went through this exercise to prove that conversion of the building into a land-based casino was an achievable option.
They concluded that the Rivergate with its large column-free space and ample porte-cochere could very easily be adapted into a casino. In fact, a casino operator could have moved into the building making only minor changes necessary to adapt the structure and bring it into compliance with current building codes.
Issue Of Size
Friends of Rivergate proposed an expansion to the South Peters Street side to address the aesthetic issues regarding this side of the building while giving the existing building area a sizable boost. In addition to this annex, a proposed mezzanine would wrap around South Hall. At North Hall, modifications were proposed that would provide accessibility to North Hall's roof, offering a unique view up and down Canal Street. This required a domed addition atop North Hall that would act as a counterpoint to the original building's vaulted roof.
Issue Of Aesthetics
Friends of Rivergate proposed cladding the Rivergate's bush-hammered interior and exterior concrete with new materials that would give the building a sleekness appropriate to a casino. The underside of the vaulted roof structure, the Rivergate's signature feature, would be restored and refinished. The clad walls below would be of a contrasting texture and material in keeping with the Rivergate's original design. Different ideas about the exterior design circulated among Friends of Rivergate. Nathaniel Curtis suggested that the walls could be clad in a mosaic tile; Dean Robertson of the Tulane School of Architecture suggested that the building be clad in marble arranged in the form of scales similar to the exterior of the Sydney Opera House. The final version that was presented to the Mayor, the City Council, and the Louisiana Economic Development & Gaming Commission indicated a stone cladding that featured horizontal banding of a contrasting colored stone which added scale to the windowless walls, complimenting their sinuous configuration.
Other changes to the building included the restoration of the dramatic exterior night lighting, new interior finishes throughout, a new flat seam copper roof system covering the vaulted roof structure, and landscaping.
The proposed modifications were, with the exception of the South Peters Street addition, essentially "hand-work." Scraping and cleaning the undersides of the vaults, applying new cement plaster, and recladding the existing interior and exterior bush-hammered concrete walls would employ many local artisans.
The exterior perspective rendering of the Rivergate as seen from the corner of Canal and South Peters Streets showing the proposed additions, stone cladding, and the proposed Canal Street streetcar was prepared by Michael Rouchell with Stephen Monette. Rouchell prepared an interior perspective rendering which was a composite of ideas proposed at a Friends of Rivergate meeting at the School of Architecture. Some of the architects present were Dean Donna Robertson, Eugene D. Cizek, Nathaniel Curtis, John P. Klingman, E. Eean McNaughton, and Michael Rouchell. This rendering was presented at the Rivergate symposium on 11 October 1994 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel sponsored by the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Louisiana Landmarks Society, and the Preservation Resource Center.
At the important Friends of Rivergate meeting on 30 March 1994 with Mayor-elect Morial, Curtis promised the newly elected mayor drawings of his personal vision of the 1960s exhibition building in a new role as a casino.
Curtis' drawings show the exterior of the Rivergate cleaned and the existing concrete walls covered with a bright colored mosaic tile. Small pedestrian scale pavilions, mostly glass with indoor planting, would be placed around the perimeters of the existing walls, particularly along the South Peters Street side. Curtis envisioned the whole exterior of the Rivergate glowing from hidden light sources. The lighting would enhance and express the architecture; the glitter would come from within the glass pavilions.
Cost Of Adaptive Reuse
Compared To Harrah's $825 Million Bankrupt Unfinished Project
There were huge estimated cost discrepancies between Friends of Rivergate's proposal and other schemes proposed. No doubt, Harrah's $825 million expenditure for demolition and new buildings was a major contributing factor to its bankruptcy, as the New Orleans gambling market fell far below marketing studies by proponents of the project. While the large expenditure was preferred by the politicos, one can view the project then and now as private waste mandated by government at the expense of the public weal.
Friends of Rivergate even showed elected city officials how reuse of the Rivergate could be turned into an economic advantage to the City. Compromise with Harrah's -- reuse the Rivergate, pass on some of the savings to Harrah's, and use some of the savings to build and staff much needed low cost housing, neighborhood redevelopment, and juvenile treatment facilities, all vital to a city riddled with crime.
Largest Casino In The
World And Public Safety
The Rivergate had five pedestrian exits. No. 1, from North Hall to Canal Street, was elevated to serve the falling grade of the sidewalk. A portion of the wide stairway could easily have been ramped for handicapped access. Nos. 2,3,4, and 5 were all at grade. The South Peters Street side, the service side, had many exits which were used by personnel, trucks, and autos. This facade of the building could have easily been modified to make additional required exits. The long, unbroken Poydras Street elevation could have been punctured to comply with applicable codes. Modest additions proposed by Friends of Rivergate do not appear to have complicated exit considerations.
However, the new casino building with its greatly increased footprint, appears to have posed a new set of exit considerations. On 13 November 1997, Jerry W. Jones, Deputy Fire Marshall and Chief Architect of the Office of the Louisiana State Fire Marshall, addressed the Consulting Engineers Council of Louisiana Incorporated and concerned architects on "Codes, What The Future Holds." Since the distances within the new casino were so great, Jones explained new ways to consider required exits. Performance codes would now be based upon distances, predictable human performance and endurance, building materials, etc. This required the creation of areas of refuge and similar devices to accommodate requirements of safety for casino patrons and personnel including the handicapped. These standards could have been applied to the Rivergate.
Issue Of Lighting
One of the magical qualities of the Rivergate was the lighting design. A more than adequate level of illumination was achieved by almost invisible means. Curtis suggested the addition of large chandeliers as lighting accents -- never a suspended ceiling.
The solution to lighting the Rivergate was to be found in creative technology not disfigurement.
Friends of Rivergate never had more than two friends on the City Council at any time -- Jacquelyn B. Clarkson and Peggy H. Wilson during the Barthelemy administration and Wilson and Suzanne H. Terrell during the Morial administration.
Clarkson voiced misgivings about lease provisions, such as the absence of a performance bond and reimbursement to the City for casino-related expenses. But she voted to award Hemmeter the lease.
Wilson's opposition was consistent and comprehensive. She was against budgeting
gambling revenues before they were realized, leasing to Hemmeter without obtaining his
financial statement, and leasing arrangements that did not include a completion bond.
Terrell, also a consistent foe of demolition, offered an amendment that no demolition
begin before all financing was in place. It passed unanimously.
The voices of Friends of Rivergate and Councilwoman-At-Large Wilson were silenced by City Hall!