Photo by Dee Allen
The City of New Orleans on Tuesday issued a request for proposals to demolish Plaza Tower, the historic high-rise at 1001 Howard Ave. For 20 years, the building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, has remained vacant, turning a modernist feat of engineering into a beacon of blight.
The controversy and debate surrounding this building is by no means new, and blight in New Orleans is a monumental problem that needs to be strategically addressed. In November, the property was prominently featured in the city’s list of New Orleans’ top 12 blighted properties, nicknamed the Dirty Dozen. But demolition is not only drastic and irreversible, it is also wasteful and environmentally irresponsible. The building can be repurposed — and it should be repurposed. Alternative solutions must be considered thoroughly.
Indeed, the city’s own request for proposals qualifies itself, saying the “RFP enables the demolition if and when building conditions warrant.”
It’s unclear if the city has put in place an adjudication process before the demolition, which seems to indicate the city is making a unilateral decision about the future of Plaza Tower. If that is the case, why can’t the mayor’s administration pursue an equally aggressive course of action that is less harmful to the environment and the city’s skyline? Instead of demolition, can the city seize the property? Prepare the site for future sale? Or pursue redevelopment itself? The public deserves a better understanding of the city’s decision-making process.
Joe Jaeger, the owner of Plaza Tower, also owns the Canal St. Hotel at 1630 Canal St., another of the Dirty Dozen. According to information released by the city in November, Jaeger has received 11 violations totaling $400,000 in fines for Plaza Tower and 10 violations with a total of $4,500 in fines for the Canal Street property.
Clearly, something is not working. City government needs to do a more effective job of holding delinquent property owners accountable for negligence, which is causing real harm to neighborhoods and people.
Is filling landfills with the remains of historic buildings the city’s best plan? Replacing blighted buildings with vacant lots seems like an empty solution.
Plaza Tower was designed by Leonard Reese Spangenberg, Jr., a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, and construction was completed in 1969. The city’s first high-rise building, it was also the tallest building in Louisiana until the arrival of One Shell Square. Construction of the building was made possible by its innovative engineering that used friction piles to create a stable foundation without bedrock. In 2013, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.
MaryNell Nolan-Wheatley is PRC’s Advocacy Coordinator & Public Policy Research Director.