NEW ORLEANS – A Florida developer who for months has dodged deposition in the lawsuit challenging the city of New Orleans' development of the former World Trade Center now is under a judge's order to be deposed within a month.
A defense spokesman who works with developer Four Seasons New Orleans said, however, that if previous history is any indication, Stuart "Neil" Fisher of Palm Beach, Florida will continue to evade deposition.
"The court ruled that he must appear for depositions in New Orleans within 30 days," Greg Beuerman, spokesman for the Carpenter-Woodward litigation team, told the Louisiana Record. "However, based on the plaintiffs' longstanding policy of seeking to delay this project and the significant benefits it will bring to the city and its residents, they may seek a writ to further delay and avoid a deposition."
Fisher is president of Two Canal Street Investors, which is suing over its losing bid to develop New Orleans' former World Trade Center site. Fisher, whose previous investments in New Orleans include failed development attempts at the Market Street power plant and Plaza Tower, is not a named plaintiff or directly involved in the case. That means, theoretically, Fisher cannot be forced to appear in Louisiana for deposition before attorneys who represent the developers who did get the city's nod to convert the former World Trade Center into a Four Seasons hotel.
Fisher does face great legal pressure to appear for a deposition after Orleans Civil District Judge Tiffany Chase's decision, issued on Tuesday, ordering him to do so. Chase handed down that decision over objections by attorney's for Two Canal Street Investors, who also announced their intent to appeal Chase's decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
Beuerman confirmed reports that Fisher has avoided being deposed for months. One attorney told Chase on Tuesday that he'd made two trips to Florida for depositions, but that Fisher failed to appear.
"Our attorneys have attempted for seven months to obtain Mr. Fisher's deposition." Beuerman said. "Only Mr. Fisher can tell you why he refuses to cooperate."
A Two Canal Street Investors' attorney told the Louisiana Record to expect a response by 4 p.m. Tuesday, but that time passed with no response.
Chase's order is only the latest event in the legal wrangling over development of the former World Trade Center. Earlier this month, an attorney for Two Canal Street Investors criticized a state senate bill orchestrated by the mayor's office that would require the developer to post millions of dollars in cash or security to maintain a lawsuit against the city and the New Orleans Building Corp. The New Orleans Building Corp. is the public benefit corporation responsible for developing city-owned property.
That legislation, Senate Bill 447, introduced by Sen. Conrad Appel (R-District 9) and still in the Transportation, Highways and Public Works committee, was read by title on Tuesday before it was ordered engrossed and passed on for third reading and final passage. Appel told the Louisiana Record he was optimistic it would pass.
Only days prior to the bill's introduction, Two Canal Street Investors filed yet another lawsuit, this one naming the real estate consulting team who advised the city as defendants. A spokesman for the mayor referred to that litigation as “frivolous” and “desperate," though a Two Canal Street attorney said the lawsuit was a legal necessity.
Emails dated before any litigation was filed indicate at least some Two Canal Street Investors officials initially were not too put out about losing the bid to develop the property. That appears to have changed last spring when Two Canal Street Investors filed its case against the city and New Orleans Building Corp. That lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in Oct. 24.
The development of New Orleans' 33-story World Trade Center, located on the riverfront, was leased last year to a development team led by Carpenter & Co. of Massachusetts and Woodward Interests of New Orleans.
Chase has said she may order New Orleans to scrap the 99-year lease and restart its search for a developer, but that she could not award the bid to Two Canal Street Investors. Chase, however, also has said Four Seasons may move ahead with the project as the case progresses, which Four Seasons officials say they plan to do.
Last winter, members of New Orleans Building Corp. considered proposals from five national and local hotel-residential developers. Acting on analyst reports that said the Four Seasons' proposal would provide the city with the greatest economic benefit, the city-appointed members selected Four Seasons New Orleans' $360 million proposal for the riverfront property. The proposal includes a Four Seasons hotel and condominiums by Carpenter & Co. and Woodward Interests.
The proposal by Two Canal Street Investors, partnered with Woodbine Development Corp. of Dallas, Monday Properties of New York and Washington D.C., and Valencia Hotel Group, was for a $228 million renovation of the World Trade Center. That proposal would have included the 318-room Hotel Alessandra and 240 apartments.
Two Canal Street Investors maintains its bid should have prevailed because it offered the highest rent payments to the city. For its part, the city claims that Four Seasons' proposal will bring in greater economic benefit above and beyond rents paid to the city.