NEW ORLEANS – Despite the call by 10 current and former World Trade Center of New Orleans executives to expedite redevelopment of the riverfront property, a Florida businessman's litigation continues to block the work.
Greg Beuerman, a spokesperson for winning bidder Carpenter -Woodward, told the Louisiana Record that the potential legal timeline for work to begin indicates the earliest that could happen would be early spring. The site itself remains ripe for the work, he said.
"The weather is no real issue, and the overall condition of the building remains the same," Beuerman said. "We are exploring options for what kind of site prep we might be able to undertake, but nothing is certain or has been decided."
Nothing can be certain or decided until litigation being pursued by Stuart "Neil" Fisher, president of Two Canal Street Investors and losing bidder for the job to renovate and revitalize the Center, is itself decided.
Fisher did not own TCSI during the bidding process, but reportedly later acquired the company for $10, according to an April 2016 Times-Picayune article. Litigation now is well into its second year.
Fisher was a no-show at the Nov. 21 hearing before Orleans Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase, who subsequently dismissed the case. Fisher, who has not responded to several Louisiana Record requests for comment, was quoted in the Dec. 1 New Orleans Advocate saying he didn't appear for the hearing because he had not yet retained counsel to replace the law firm that withdrew from his case in October.
Fisher now is being represented by Varadi, Hair & Checki in New Orleans.
"This litigation is going to be long and protracted," Fisher was quoted in the New Orleans Advocate article.
Fisher's latest appeal will be especially difficult for Fisher's newly hired attorneys because Chase dismissed the case with prejudice. That means Fisher cannot revive his specific allegation in the now 18-month old case. Instead, Fisher can only challenge the dismissal itself.
Fisher's appeal, which may be heard as soon as Jan. 20, was filed after the Center's current and former executives on Dec. 20 issued a call for expedited progress in the redevelopment. The board and nine former chairs of the 1,000-member organization, which had supported the proposal submitted by TCSI under its previous ownership, say they want Fisher's litigation to stop and to allow the $400 million project to move forward.
"This is not a decision we have entered into lightly or without careful consideration of the facts," Edward T. Hayes, the organization's chair, said in the executives' statement emailed to the Louisiana Record. "Unanimously, our Board and former Chairs have concluded that additional delays to the development of the Four Seasons New Orleans are counterproductive to the economic advancement of our city and state, and counter-intuitive to the World Trade Center's mission of creating wealth and economic opportunity for the people of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana."
The delays should end, Hayes said.
"The time has come to put these costly delays behind us, and to put hundreds of local tradesmen and women to work on bringing this landmark building back into meaningful commerce," he said. "The proposal and development team our organization originally supported no longer exists in any credible form or fashion. Therefore we have no hesitation about embracing the expedited redevelopment of the building, and the expedited delivery of jobs for our people and tax revenues for our city."
Hayes and the current board were joined by former WTCNO Chairs David Kearney, Ronnie Kole, Charles Nelson, Patricia Denechaud, J. Dwight LeBlanc Jr., Dennis Kelly, Constance Willems, Frank Stewart and Jean Felts.
Beuerman said the organization's statement is very significant.
"It reflects a strongly worded defection from the initial TCSI proposal and a repudiation of their tactics of delay, delay, delay," he said. "That 10 of our city's leading citizens in business, law, shipping and tourism should step out front and say 'enough is enough' while vacating the organization's previous engagement with TCSI demonstrates just how important this project is to the city, state and economy."
Despite that, Beuerman demonstrated in a potential legal timeline that it will be early spring, at the earliest, before the wishes of the WTCNO executives can be fulfilled. After hearing Fisher's latest appeal, the appeals court will have well into February to issue its ruling. Parties then have about two weeks for further filings with that court and another month to apply to the Louisiana Supreme Court. If litigation were to end there -- and no one is commenting about whether it will -- then it could be late March before the litigation ends and World Trade redevelopment may move forward.