|THE RIVERGATE||title page | contents | appendices | cd-book cover|
chapter 7 part 1
|louisiana politics of destruction
by abbye a. gorin and wilbur e. meneray
Not only do you recognize how important your heritage is, but you have so much chutzpa that you think you can stop some huge, billion-dollar deal that's so politically wired no idiot in any other city would even dream of questioning it. But you guys are out there tilting at windmills trying to stop the biggest Casino in the world and the riverfront Insectarium and the demolition of the BellSouth Building, and now the demolition of the buildings on Canal Street. And by God you're so persistent and so irreverent that half the time you end up succeeding. And even when you don't succeed, you make them bend over backwards to avoid getting you riled up the next time around. You know, the national preservation movement could learn a lot from you folks in New Orleans.
|I.||The Rivergate Politically Wired?|
|II.||Tilting At Windmills|
|III.||Mayor-elect Morial And Friends Of Rivergate Meet|
|IV.||New Orleans Gaming Committee's Kangaroo Court|
|V.||Demolition Could Have Been Prevented By The Mayor Or City Council|
|VI.||Forced Merger Of LEDGCO'S Choice of Casino
"Operator" And Adaptive Reuse
With City Council's Choice Of Casino "Developer" And Destruction Of The Rivergate
|VII.||Failed Efforts To Publish Drawings Of The Rivergate As A Casino In the Times-Picayune|
I. The Rivergate Politically Wired?
Attorney Elizabeth S. Merritt was the invited speaker for the 1996 annual Martha G. Robinson Memorial Lecture under the auspices of the Louisiana Landmarks Society in New Orleans. Merritt, although an outsider, had astute insights into the New Orleans preservation scene.
Birth Of LEDGCO, Gov.
Edwards' Hand-Picked Board
The nine-member board of LEDGCO was selected by Gov. Edwards who promised a "pristine" panel made up of Louisiana's "best and brightest."
City Council Selects The
On 5 November 1992, Mayor Barthelemy and the City Council picked Hemmeter-Caesars to lease the Rivergate for the development of a casino. Hemmeter's scheme called for demolition of the Rivergate down to the piles and building a new structure, much of it underground.
On 15 April 1993, Mayor Barthelemy and the City Council, with the exception of Councilwoman Peggy Wilson, finalized the selection of Hemmeter and Daniel Robinowitz as the "developer." Wilson, a foe of gambling and opponent of the destruction of the Rivergate, walked out of the Council meeting before the vote was taken.
Legal Maneuvering To
Save The Rivergate
The suit argued that the City owns only half the strips of land, the result of an old property dispute dating to 1851. At one time the Mississippi River flowed over the Rivergate site but the river changed course in 1820. Soil built up at the site, and in mid nineteenth-century the City wanted to create streets on what is now the Rivergate site. In so doing, the City agreed that it and the property owners jointly would get back title to the land if the streets ceased to be thoroughfares.
The McCall suit contended that the Rivergate was built over the streets in violation of the 1851 agreement. It also contended that the City cannot undedicate the streets without agreement of the heirs of the original land owners. Cousins Henry G. and Harry McCall Jr. were among the heirs.
Although Tucker filed suit in April 1993, he did not activate it until August when Hemmeter and Harrah's Jazz joined forces and announced their plan to raze the Rivergate. In October, Tucker amended his lawuit to challenge the constitutionality of the Rivergate Development Corporation.
The McCall suit argued that the casino could not proceed because the City did not have title to the Rivergate. The title question had to be settled before the City could transfer the casino lease from Hemmeter to Harrah's. As long as the suit was in the courts, Harrah's could not get title insurance for the Rivergate site. Without title insurance, bonds could not be sold to finance the project. And demolition could not start until the bonds were sold.
State Judge Dismissed
McCall Suit Without Trial
On 22 February 1994, Garvey dismissed the suit without a trial which opened the way for Harrah's to get title insurance. He said that the McCalls did not have an ownership interest in the former streets.
In December 1995, Garvey ruled that the McCalls had no personal interest in the matter beyond that of any other member of the general public and, therefore, no legal standing to challenge formation of the public benefit corporation and lease of the land to Harrah's.
On 29 January 1997, a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously reversed Garvey's finding. The appellate court reversed the McCalls' suit challenging whether the City properly formed a public benefit corporation, the RDC, which leased the Rivergate site to Harrah's for a casino. The appellate court said that the McCalls do have at least a marginal standing as members of the public to challenge the leasing of the land.
This decision meant that the McCall case would be tried on its merits for the first time. If successful, the RDC would be held not to exist and there would be no valid lease of the casino site from the beginning (Voelker 1987).
McCall Case, A
Contribution To Harrah's Jazz Bankruptcy
The McCall suit helped to push Harrah's Jazz to accept Barthelemy's demand to locate the temporary casino in the old Municipal Auditorium. Barthelemy's representatives warned Harrah's Jazz that they might face delays in getting "city permits" to build their choice of a temporary casino across the street from the Rivergate. This warning from the city power brokers plus the possibility of more delays and expenses that were set up by the McCall lawsuit pushed Harrah's Jazz into accepting Barthelemy's demands (Bridges and Donze 1993).
Jazz Settles The
LEDGCO's First Public
Hearings On Selection Of Casino Operator
Hemmeter and Harrah's-Jazzville vied for the "operator" license. Harrah's-Jazzville proposed opening a temporary casino in part of the Rivergate almost immediately, remodeling and adding to the area as business required. This proposal was totally different from Hemmeter's destruction plan.
Favoring Demolition of
Ted Falgout, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission and chairman of the Lafourche Parish Coastal Zone Management Advisory Committee, claimed Hemmeter's plan to demolish the Rivergate would yield 100,000 to 130,000 tons of concrete rubble (worth $18-$30 a ton) that could be used to create an offshore breakwater to protect the rapidly eroding beach at Port Fourchon.
Endorsements for Hemmeter's scheme came from developer Joseph Canizaro; Audubon Institute president and CEO, L. Ron Forman; real estate developer and chairman of the Greater New Orleans Casino Development Association, Steve Gaynor; and president of the Board of Commissioners of the Morial Convention Center and New Orleans Expedition Hall Authority, Dr. Mervin Trail.
Canizaro said that if Hemmeter's Grand Palais were built, he was confident of securing financing for a 500-room Ritz-Carlton hotel at the nearby Piazza d'Italia. If the Rivergate were renovated to create the smaller casino proposed by Harrah's, he said, the hotel would have only 350 rooms and might not be built at all (Eggler 1993). [In 1998, plans to locate a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the upper floors of the Maison Blanche building on Canal Street were being prepared by local architects but not for developer Joseph Canizaro.]
Managers of hotels and owners of businesses near the proposed casino added their voices, criticizing everything about the Rivergate from its concrete walls to its dirty roof.
Favoring Adaptive Reuse
Of The Rivergate
Moss was the first of the architectural community to speak out publicly in defense of adaptive reuse of the Rivergate at City Council, Historic District Landmark Commission, City Planning Commission, and the LEDGCO public meetings. Her personal crusade began 31 August 1993 with a letter to Gov. Edwards. Gorin joined Moss in her cause after reading Moss' Letter to the Editor in the Times-Picayune on 8 September 1993.
Organized Efforts To
Save The Rivergate
Among this group were Donna V. Robertson, then-dean of the Tulane School of Architecture; E. Eean McNaughton, architect for the restoration of the old United States Mint in the Vieux Carré and the old State Capitol in Baton Rouge; and Nathaniel Curtis, designer of the Rivergate, Superdome and many other buildings in the city, the United States, and abroad.
These highly successful architectural professionals -- all busy and none hustling the city for work -- focused their efforts on 1) preventing an irreversible architectural disaster; 2) expediting the opening of the casino and getting revenues into the city coffers; and 3) preventing lawsuits. Moss framed a plan to make the land-based casino a vehicle to finance an assault on urban crime and save the Rivergate at the same time. It called for Harrah's Jazz to pay to the City the estimated cost of demolition. This money, in turn, would be placed in trust to be administered by a blue ribbon committee to rehabilitate crime-infested areas of the City where basic living conditions are subhuman. The plan was presented on 22 September 1993 to Ron Lenczycki, then-president of Harrah's New Orleans, and on 8 October to the City Council. This plan -- for a city with one of the highest crime rates in the nation and over 30,000 abandoned dwellings -- held no interest for promoters or elected city officials.
New Orleans Business
Leaders Not Receptive To Adaptive Reuse
The Business Council, a group of representatives of the largest and most affluent entrepreneurs in New Orleans, refused to grant Dean Robertson a hearing.
The Board of Commissioners of the Downtown Development District on 20 October 1993, issued a printed statement of support for the proposed Harrah's Jazz casino. In their statement they said that "By replacing the Rivergate with a top quality structure housing the world's largest casino, the project will enhance the Central Business District by attracting new visitors to our City."
On 17 November 1993, Moss contacted by phone, then by letter, André Rubenstein, Chairman of the Board/CEO of Rubenstein Brothers and also Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Downtown Development District. Moss focused on economy of time and money by adapting the Rivergate for a casino. Rubenstein's letter of 22 November to Moss states the position of the Downtown Development District. He wrote: "...the DDD did not take a proactive position on the retention or demolition of the Rivergate, but rather confirmed that the concept of the proposal by the casino operator/developers was acceptance as an appropriate facility to serve as the focal point for the single land-based casino." This mind-set of the Downtown Development District remained fixed and firm.
Although Mayor Barthelemy and the City Council wrote the death warrant for the Rivergate by selecting Hemmeter as the casino developer, Wendell Gauthier, spokesman for Jazzville Ten, added, "But you can't say Sidney Barthelemy or [Councilman] Jim Singleton were each responsible. I blame the DDD [Downtown Development District] as much as them. ...I got a letter from Joe Canizaro that if we didn't build a state-of-the-art building he wasn't going to put his new hotel across the street from a renovated Rivergate. And that was circulated to the Council. ...The DDD not only wouldn't come with us; they practically ran us out the room. I'm talking about the whole Downtown Development District" (Gauthier audio tape 1997).
Demolish The Rivergate For Jobs
Mayor Marc H. Morial --
A Ray Of Hope?
Gorin met the campaigning senator on 27 February 1994 at a celebration marking the completion of the restoration of the historic Cabildo after the disastrous 1988 fire. Gorin asked Morial his views concerning the demolition of the Rivergate. He would not give a pre-election commitment but suggested a visit after the election! Morial's opponent, Donald Mintz, would not make any pre-election commitment to save the Rivergate either!
On 18 March 1994, a resolution was passed by the Tulane School of Architecture Council (the governing body of the School) for the preservation of the Rivergate. On 29 March 1994, Dean Robertson sent Dr. Eamon M. Kelly, then-president of Tulane University, a copy of the resolution with a memo that said, "We are submitting this resolution to the Mayor-elect and the Council members-elect. Our hope is that this issue is still open and that our Mayor is willing to be educated."
In an effort to call the public's attention to the importance of saving buildings from our recent past, on 30 September and 2 October 1994, the School conducted tours of contemporary designs around New Orleans by some of its most notable graduates.
On 30 March 1994, Friends of Rivergate met with Mayor-elect Morial. Nathaniel Curtis was among the group and promised to furnish the Mayor-elect with drawings of his personal vision of how the avant-garde exposition building could easily be adapted for the new casino (legislated by law to be located on the Rivergate site, but demolition of the building was NOT required by law).
Mayor-elect Morial requested that the proposal for adaptive reuse of the Rivergate include plans, estimates of square footage (recurrent official objections to the Rivergate were based on the belief that the building was not big enough), and costs. The Mayor-elect appeared interested in alternative off-site parking solutions for the projected traffic problems at what he called "the devil's elbow."
Also at this meeting, Mayor-elect Morial suggested to Friends of Rivergate that they contact the newly elected Councilman Roy E. Glapion Jr., chairman of the Gaming Committee, then follow with a meeting with each new council member. On 18 April 1994, a tour of the Rivergate was offered to each new council member, but only two council members showed, Suzanne H. Terrell and Oliver Thomas in whose district the Rivergate and Squares 4 and 5 (allocated for enormous parking garages) were located.
As a courtesy to the Mayor (inaugurated on 2 May 1994) and to fullfil his requirements for information about adaptive reuse of the Rivergate, Friends made repeated requests for an appointment with him to explain their research. At 2:30 pm on 15 June 1994, Julie Henderson, appointment secretary to the Mayor, called Moss and informed her that Friends of Rivergate had been given an appointment with the Mayor for 5:15 pm that same afternoon, giving them less than three hours to assemble a group of scattered professionals. Moss successfully summoned a group -- E. Eean McNaughton, Nathaniel Curtis, John Klingman, who represented the Tulane School of Architecture, Gorin, and others -- only to be kept waiting in the hall by the Mayor for two hours.
Two schemes were fully presented and explained to Mayor Morial and two of his advisors, Marlin Gusman, chief administrative officer, and Harriet Burnett, director, Safety and Permits, whose office issued the permits to demolish the Rivergate and to construct a casino building on the Rivergate site. The presentation included drawings, maps, and text which included square footages, costs, time frames, and alternate parking possibilities, an item in which he had expressed an extreme interest.
The Mayor's reaction was tepid, disinterested, and non committal!
Friends of Rivergate knew that they had two votes on the new council, Peggy Wilson and Suzanne Terrell. If they could persuade two more, they would have a majority.
Mayor Morial's suggested presentation meetings were carried out promptly and climaxed in a meeting of the Gaming Committee on 28 June 1994 in the Council Chamber, patterned after a kangaroo court. The new gaming chairman, Glapion, was deposed as chair of his committee's business by the more experienced Councilman-At-Large Jim Singleton, then-president of the City Council. Singleton appointed every committee and was an ex officio member of every committee. After Friends of Rivergate again presented the case for adaptive reuse, the committee quickly voted unanimously against adaptive reuse of the Rivergate.
On 7 July 1994, at a regular meeting of the City Council, members of Friends of Rivergate came to City Hall to speak at this meeting but the matter was deferred to mid afternoon and these people were obliged to return to their professional pursuits. Councilman Glapion reported that the Gaming Committee had reaffirmed the terms of the lease and recommended demolition of Rivergate. He moved that the committee report be accepted by the full Council. Council president Singleton seconded the motion. Councilwoman Ellen Hazeur-Distance personally responded to the Friends to "trust" the City Council's judgment:
Terrell expressed her opposition to the demolition of the Rivergate and
submitted an amendment requiring that demolition be deferred until all
financing requirements were in place. The amendment was adopted unanimously
and inserted in the report of the Gaming Committee in the form of Resolution
R94599. The Resolution passed the seven member City Council by a vote
of five to two -- Terrell and Wilson opposed demoltion to the end.
mayoral powers, Mayor Morial could have prevented the destruction of the
Rivergate. With the power invested in the City Council, council members
could have stopped the demolition. But as events unfolded, Marc Morial
and the majority of the City Council and key appointees processed the
deals cut by Gov. Edwards, Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, and a majority of
the Barthelemy administration City Council. Morial simply rubber stamped
On 5 November 1992, Mayor Barthelemy and the City Council picked Hemmeter-Caesar's to lease the Rivergate for development of a casino. On 15 April 1993, Mayor Barthelemy and the City Council finalized the selection of Hemmeter as the "developer."
On 11 August 1993, LEDGCO voted five to four for adaptive reuse of the Rivergate and awarded the "operator's" license to Harrah's-Jazzville. The vote immediately produced charges of political favoritism and political pressure plus an accusation of a sex-for-vote scheme (Elkind 1997, 172). Hemmeter's lawyers promptly sued because selection of the "operator" was also a selection of a building program which appeared to exclude Hemmeter and his building scheme.
According to Gauthier, Harrah's-Jazzville offered to buy out Hemmeter, but he refused. Gov. Edwards intervened and Hemmeter, Harrah's, and Jazzville Ten became a ménage a trois, each with an equal share in the gambling enterprise.
Acceptance of the arrangement for the three entities required that Hemmeter try to persuade Mayor Barthelemy to accept adaptive reuse of the Rivergate as a corner stone of the development of casino gambling in New Orleans (Gauthier audio tape 1997).
Either Hemmeter could not, would not, or, in any event, did not persuade Barthelemy to accept the requirement and Harrah's-Jazzville accepted demolition of Rivergate. They also accepted another City requirement, the remodeling and use of the Municipal Auditorium as the temporary casino while the new building was constructed. In retrospect, these agreements struck a mortal blow to land-based casino gambling in the city.
On 1 May 1995, the temporary land-based casino opened in the old Municipal Auditorium. Amid fanfare and hoopla, Mayor Morial and Wendell Gauthier presided and exulted, "Let the games begin!" The old auditorium was refurbished, modernized, added to, and adapted for its new occupant. On 3 May, a record cloudburst flooded the building and put it out of business for several days -- an omen of many rains to come on the land-based casino project.
The insurance company's check to reimburse Harrah's for flood related losses arrived in 1997 at a time when Harrah's local funds were depleted and were not going to be replenished, and payment to the city was due. The insurance check paid for another hang-on period.
LEDGCO Board Dies With
The decision of the power brokers to slice the operator license three ways negated the LEDGCO decision. LEDGCO was reduced to devoting its energies to background checks and investigations of individuals and companies doing business with anybody connected with gambling.
Former Judge Fred Cassibry was appointed to fill a vacancy on the LEDGCO Board. In the week before Thanksgiving 1995, Judge Cassibry announced publicly that he had been reliably informed that the temporary casino, then in operation at the Municipal Auditorium, was going to declare bankruptcy. Although Harrah's denied the allegations, the day before Thanksgiving the doors were shut on the temporary casino. Harrah's cited disappointing revenues, increasing losses, and the refusal of the bank to extend further credit for construction. The whole enterprise was bankrupt -- the temporary casino closed, construction on the permanent casino ceased, and a total of 3,300 casino and construction workers unemployed, and tens of millions of dollars unpaid to creditors.
from Harrah's to help cover LEDGCO's $376,000 monthly expenses, the short-lived
nine-member board and most of the staff were among the unemployed.
|VII.||Failed Efforts To Publish Drawings Of The Rivergate As A Casino In The Times-Picayune|
The Times-Picayune published letters to the editor that favored adaptive reuse of the building and published feature stories before the building was destroyed. "Requiem for the Rivergate," story by Elizabeth Mullener and photographs by G. Andrew Boyd, helped to earn for the Times-Picayune the National Trust for Historic Preservation 1995 National Honor Award. When Samuel Wilson Jr. died (October 1993), the Times-Picayune wrote a tribute-editorial to the dean of architectural preservation in New Orleans who was in the fight to save the Rivergate. The editorial said, "A fitting epitaph for the widely respected preservationist might well be: 'He championed fine architecture wherever he could find it.'" But the editorial opinion of the paper never said don't destroy the Rivergate. Nor would the paper publish architectural drawings provided by Friends of Rivergate to illustrate the potential of the Rivergate as a signature, world-class gambling casino.
During the Morial and Friends meeting, the Mayor-elect wanted to know the position of the Times-Picayune on saving the Rivergate. When Friends responded that the paper had not taken a position, the Mayor-elect's silent facial expression indicated to Friends that he seemed pleased.