If the local World Trade Center had as many tenants as there have been failed plans to redevelop it, there would be no current controversy about what to do with the building. Its capacity would be full.
Unfortunately, the building, which is located at what is often referred to as being the most valuable plot of land in the state, stands closed. The once-glorious visions of it being a center for global trade are as distant as the days of steam freighters hauling bananas to the nearby docks. Times and riverfronts have changed.
There are currently at least three proposals for what to do with the building. Two of the plans would save the building, fix it and develop it for multipurpose use. Another plan calls for tearing down the building and replacing it with an unspecified monument that would, it is hoped, become a symbol of the city. The St. Louis Gateway Arch and the Sydney Opera House are often mentioned as examples. We take no position on which of the restoration plans should be adopted, however we do feel strongly that the building should be allowed to stand. We do so for several reasons:
• Even in its rundown state it is a handsome building that still has the airy feeling and extra touches (such as a revolving night club space as its crown) worthy of a building standing as a window to the world. Situated as it is on the edge of Spanish Plaza and with statues of Simone Bolivar and Winston Churchill nearby, it can be the centerpiece of an international setting. Done right, the building can be riveting.
• There is a historical importance to the building, which was completed in 1967. Having evolved from the former International Trade Mart, it was at the forefront of the global drive to create World Trade Centers.
• New Orleans is already blessed with landmarks. There are Jackson Square, the steeple of the cathedral and the cupolas of the Cabildo and Presbytere. For something more modern there is the Superdome, freshly scrubbed and with a dazzling new look, especially at night. We are a city of landmarks.
Why the building has not been more successful has had more to do with timing than with structure.
Countries do not invest as much in consular corps as they used to. What were once fully staffed consulates have frequently been replaced by Honorary Consul Generals, many operating out of local law offices. Also with the end of the Cold War, some nations turned their attention to newly liberated countries with fresh opportunities to mine.
Whatever the future of the building will be, its role as a setting for foreign trade will be diminished, yet it can flourish as a setting for hotel rooms, condos, apartments and office space. The building could be one of the most desirable places to live and work in the city. It could also bring new energy to the area that surrounds it.
Restored with thought and ambition the building can ultimately be a monument in itself – one dedicated to commerce – and that’s a statement that the city clearly needs to make.