The dramatic collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans re-opens a can of worms. The proposed development was controversial from its inception.
1031 Canal Street for decades was the site of Woolworths, a five’n’dime department store whose lunch counter was ground zero for civil rights protesters in 1960. When it was proposed the Woolworths building be demolished to make room for a new development, historical preservationists and neighborhood activists went ballistic. Despite their objections, however, the Woolworths building was demolished in 2015.
Kailas Bros. bought the lot in 2007 and proposed developing a mixed use retail/residential design. At issue was the height of the development. Zoning laws limited new construction to 70 feet. The Kailas proposal was a 200 foot high rise. In 2011, the City Council, over the objections of many who argued the building was too tall and therefore out of scale for the French Quarter, voted to allow the highrise to go up.
A year and a half later, Praveen Kailas pled guilty in Federal Court to overbilling the state’s Road Home program after Katrina in another residential development.
Construction on the structure that recently collapsed began in early 2018 after it was announced that the site would house a Hard Rock hotel. The investigation into what caused the collapse is just getting underway.
NOLA.com reports that the General Contractor, Metairie-based Citadel Builders has employed 50 different subcontractors on the project. Reporter Jeff Adelson reports, “Workers on the site this weekend said they were with the King Company, listed as working on drywall, and RMS Masonry. RMS Masonry was not on the Citadel list.”
A former structural engineer with the development project, Walter Zehner, stated:
“The one thing I find hard to understand is the collapse started at the rear of the building (by Rampart and Iberville streets) but it wound up, you had collapsed slabs all the way on the front end of the build which is 300 feet away (on Canal Street). So I don’t know how that progression worked like that. I guess that’s part of what the investigation is going to reveal. Logically it doesn’t make sense it would happen that way. There’s got to be a reason for that to happen, and that’s going to be part of the investigation.”
Two questions the investigation will have to answer are whether the site was properly inspected and up to date on all permits. And looming over the investigation of the building collapse is an ongoing, unrelated Federal investigation into corruption at the city’s Department of Safety and Permits.
According to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, “One city inspector was indicted two months ago after being accused of accepting bribes for favorable inspection reports between 2012 and 2019, and in September, two from the office were suspended in conjunction with the probe, according to media reports.”
In addition to possible corruption, others are questioning the competence of those working on the project. Not long ago, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union protested the construction site because of its use of unlicensed electricians.
Whatever the investigation reveals, the city should rethink the whole project.