Partners in urban development
the rebirth of the New Orleans riverfront
Project Management in Action
The Project Management Institute will hold its 27th Annual Seminar/Symposium, for the first time in New Orleans, Louisiana, in October 1995. The Greater New Orleans PMI Chapter is excited to showcase New Orleans project successes and to report on the explosion of diverse industry projects in its downtown area.
The authors of this showcase share their experiences in the development (and redevelopment) of multi-faceted, cross-industry projects along the New Orleans Central Area Riverfront. The “Mighty Mississippi” connects this grand port to international waters and significantly influences the character of New Orleans, making it a one-of-a-kind city.
Nowhere else is this chronology of events and project history captured in a single document. Authors Jim Amdal and Clyde Butler, long-time friends and professional colleagues, have joined their unique and common experiences to present a highly complex connection of projects that have evolved independently … or was it effective project management?
PMI ‘95 will host its offsite event at the Aquarium of the Americas. The aquarium's parent, the Audubon Institute, remains the catalyst to progressive and innovative developments that often cause local controversy. Urban visionaries in New Orleans are often at odds with historic preservationists. The development of projects on and around the downtown riverfront, bordered by historic districts, is preceded by years of connected and disconnected project planning and political feuding.
The “project movers” in New Orleans are often independent government, quasi-government, civic, community, public and private organizations, as well as individual activists, which interface to develop strategies and formulas for continued progress. Probably no other city achieves progress through the level of specialized professional volunteerism as is experienced in New Orleans. This “informal” professional grouping has begun to form a character that is being institutionalized in “unofficial” city planning.
The Aquarium of the Americas rests near the crescent-shaped curve of the Mississippi River as it carves the banks along the New Orleans Central Area Riverfront and the historic French Quarter. New Orleans is frequently called the “Crescent City.”
This article presents a success story on the downtown Central Area Riverfront. The Aquarium of the Americas is the centerpiece of an urban economic development that illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary and industry cross-pollination in managing a project— particularly along-term strategic plan for development. This project clearly reflects what happens when economic shifts force a city to look closely at its resources, assets and liabilities. New Orleans' planners and developers took a risk and began expansion on the riverfront as a wave of hope to turn this city's economy around. The dream is well on its way to being fulfilled.
New Orleans today enjoys growth that reflects on the vitality of those who are “learning better” and “working smarter” to manage projects within a common framework.
A look at the New Orleans industry base reveals the dynamics and opportu-nities of this southern port city. The port and maritime, tourism, oil and gas, motor freight and rail service, healthcare, utilities and communications, higher education, and expanded cultural-social-sports and entertainment attractions continue to grow. However, no other area among New Orleans' recent developments has impacted on the city as has the development in the central area of downtown along the Mississippi riverfront.
Bonnie McGarr Peace, President, Greater New Orleans PMI Chapter; Special Projects Director, Downtown Development District
The Context Of PM
James R. Amdal, Comprehensive Development Services, Inc., New Orleans, Louisiana
A dramatic act in 1967 occurred along the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) riverfront that began the reintroduction of the New Orleans riverfront to our residents and visitors. After a ship collided with the Dumanie Street wharf, immediately adjacent to Jackson Square in the Vieux Carré, the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans decided that this particular wharf would not be rebuilt and the Corps of Engineers was directed to rebuild the levee bank in concrete rip-rap. This created the first opportunity for the City of New Orleans to rediscover its riverfront. Up to this time, the entire Central Area Riverfront was a continuous row of metal wharf sheds, railroad tracks, a levee/flood wall protection system—a very unfriendly “people environment.”
With the opening created by this “destruction,” the Moonwalk (now a part of Washington Artillery Park) was constructed in 1968. This modest project, a 40-foot-long pedestrian overlook situated atop the earthen levee, provided a new and dramatic vision of the “Mighty Mississippi” and was a precursor of many more riverfront developments to come. As its main proponent, former Mayor Moon Landrieu, stated in New Orleans Magazine, “clearly the river is why New Orleans was founded, and there was always a certain romanticism about us getting back to the river the way it had been long ago.”
On July 1, 1969, the revitalization of the contemporary New Orleans riverfront was given a major new future. On this date, Secretary of Transportation John Volpe formally canceled the Vieux Carré Riverfront Expressway. In his prepared statement Volpe said, “It would have seriously impaired the historic quality of New Orleans' famed French Quarter. The Riverfront Expressway would have separated the French Quarter from its Mississippi River levee and waterfront.” This dramatic reversal is perhaps the single most important event in our city's recent history. Citizen advocates, preservationists, concerned foundations, and local not-for-profits banded together to fight and win this “Second Battle of New Orleans.” As local preservationist and transit activist Bill Borah recalls, “This was the first section of the interstate highway system that was canceled for environmental reasons.”
Compared to the Moonwalk, what local developer Lester Kabacoff was envisioning for a site at Poydras and the Mississippi River was grandiose, to put it mildly. Throughout the mid-1970s Kabacoff and his partners tried to obtain development rights to marginally used Dock Board wharves. Upon successful negotiation with the Dock Board and the State of Louisiana, the New Orleans Hilton Hotel (a $75 million project) was built. Opened in August 1977, this 1,146-room hotel brought both visitors and locals to the riverfront in record numbers. According to Kabacoff, “I'd guess 95 percent of the people around here had never seen the downtown riverfront until we built the Hilton.”
THE DOCK BOARD'S STRATEGIC PLAN FOR THE CENTRAL AREA RIVERFRONT
In the early 1980s the Dock Board, in conjunction with the Downtown Development District and the City Streets Department, commissioned a comprehensive multi-year study for the Central Area Riverfront. This planning initiative laid the groundwork for a significant reversal of the Dock Board's unilateral policy regarding its Central Area Riverfront wharves and their ultimate redevelopment potential. Until this study was completed and widely distributed, the Dock Board had maintained that all of their wharves were exclusively reserved for maritime commerce uses. However, in this landmark document, the Dock Board acknowledged that due to changes in the port technologies, declining break bulk cargo revenues, and the potential for non-maritime commercial uses of these prime real estate assets, the Dock Board would consider alternative uses [see “The Dock Board”].
The Downtown Development District: A Driving Force Toward the Future
Today, downtown New Orleans is indeed alive. But in the early 1970s, like many other central business districts, the New Orleans downtown faced decline. Economic shifts and out-migration threatened its existence and livelihood. To grow again, it needed a driving force toward progess and the 21st Century. For these purposes-and more—the City of New Orleans created the Downtown Development District (DDD) in 1974.
The DDD is a special taxing district bounded by the French Quarter (Iberville Street), Interstate 10 (Claiborne Avenue), the Mississippi River and the Ponchartrain Expressway. Its purpose is to provide capital projects and services to improve New Orleans' Central Business District (CBD) as a business, cultural and residential area.
Act 498 of the 1974 Louisiana State Legislature empowered the City of New Orleans to establish the DDD. One of its features is the ability to levy an additional tax on real property within the District. This way, the DDD could assure the major implementation function of the City's 1975 Growth Management Plan (GMP) for the CBD, while generating additional funds to carry out specific district improvements.
The 1987 Growth Management Plan Update targeted as one goal the development of a series of connected, publicly-oriented and accessible activities along the length of the Mississippi River. Support of this goal and others, in part, involved:
- Providing leadership in the development of a network for communication, coordination, and advocacy on behalf of the downtown.
- Achieving an integrated transportation system for the CBD.
- Providing downtown activities that attract residents and visitors.
- Encouraging urban design distinction in New Orleans' downtown.
- Acting as a catalyst to encourage residential development in the downtown area.
- Acting as a catalyst in the partnership of the public and private sectors to achieve development goals.
A nine-member Board of Commissioners, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council, leads the effort to reach these goals.
Today, Chief Executive Officer Donald A. Shea and a full-time staff of nine continue to serve as an advocate for the downtown property owners and business community, and conduct specialized planning, security, marketing, and maintenance programs to improve the value and competive-ness of downtown New Orleans. Urban redevelopment projects and studies measuring the impacts of the gaming industry on the city (followed by the 1991 passage of riverboat gambling and the 1992 legislation creating the world's largest land-based casino in downtown New Orleans) are high priorities.
The Dock Board
J. Ronald Brinson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans, says “Metropolitan New Orleans is one of the great cities of the world— and it has one of the world's greatest ports. These two essential aspects of the New Orleans community are inseparable. Our love of music and the music we love, our food and the way we cook it, our culture of celebration— even the way we speak the language we use—are all flavored by our commerce with the world through the port. Through the port we received the rhythms that became jazz, the seasonings that inspired jambalaya, and the traditions of Mardi Gras. The people that brought them created the lifestyle we've always enjoyed … and the industry that has always supported it. Today, as ever, when we want to experience Greater New Orleans, we look close to that Mighty Mississippi River.”
In the course of a year, more than 30 million tons of cargo pass through the Port of New Orleans' $700 million facilities. The port accommodates an average of 2400 vessels per year. Major commodities include metals, coffee, tea, cocoa, forest products, rubber, grains and sugar. Points of origin and destination are to/from the American Midwest, Central and South America, Northern Europe and the Far East.
The Port of New Orleans is governed and managed by the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans, better known to natives as “The Dock Board.” This organization is made up of a seven-member board and 420 office and field personnel. The Board sets policies and regulates the traffic and commerce of the Port throughout St. Bernard, Orleans and Jefferson parishes. The office and field personnel manage the port's daily operations.
The Dock Board plays a pivotal role in all development along the riverfront, including the 1991 State of Louisiana approval of riverboat gambling, and the in-process Phase III expansion of the Convention Center.
In its October 1986 Strategic Plan for the port, the Dock Board reaffirmed its mission statement: “To be a proactive, customer-oriented, financially healthy service organization whose primary purpose is to maximize the flow of foreign and domestic waterborne-trade and commerce with relevant markets by providing, directly or through third parties, highly productive facilities, equipment and support services to meet the specialized needs of shippers and ship operators.”
New Orleans was founded as a strategic transportation center and continues to be a shipping hub today. The Port of New Orleans is the largest inland port in the United States and, together with neighboring ports in south Louisiana, leads the world in total cargo tonnage. The port moves close to 49 million tons of cargo, or about 35 percent of all the tonnage moving through Gulf Coast ports. Europe is the port's major trading partner, but New Orleans is a world port, served by more than 100 steamship operators and bulk carriers calling at all continents. It is also a river port, served each year by 100,000 barges that travel the 14,500 miles of waterways making up the Mississippi River system and man-made canals along the Gulf Coast. Overland, six trunkline railroads and 69 common-carrier truck lines link the port to every comer of the United States.
Metrowide, the Port of New Orleans generates over 50,000 jobs, $4.4 billion in total spending and $128 million in state and local tax revenue. In progress at the Port of New Orleans is a $200 million master development plan that includes the creation of three super terminals, a 3,170-foot heavy-duty dock, and $35 million in improvements on the Industrial Canal, including construction of a new wharf and flood-control project.
New Orleans continues to develop its non-cargo maritime business as well. The city is growing in popularity as a cruise center and is ideally located for cruise services to destinations on the coasts of Mexico and Central and South America, as well as up and down the Mississippi River.
Given the importance of this public policy document and in light of the then upcoming World's Fair, the Preservation Resource Center, in conjunction with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sponsored and funded the Preservation/Development Plan for the Historic Warehouse District. This nationally award-winning project documented the historic resources within the immediate area of Expo ‘84 (New Orleans' World's Fair of 1984), proposed proactive measures for the preservation and development of these historic properties, and suggested specific projects that would position this unique asset for future renewal. This document has served as both a benchmark planning tool and a marketing resource for the ultimate creation of the city's newest neighborhood. Its recommendations have been adopted by the City, the Downtown Development District, and private sector developers.
THE WORLD'S FAIR: Expo ‘84 and Related Development
At this same time, the State of Louisiana, the City of New Orleans, private developers, railroad interests and the Board of Directors of the Louisiana World Exposition (Expo ‘84) were negotiating for approximately 3,000 linear feet of riverfront, including three wharf sites adjacent to the Central Business District, for use as a portion of the Expo ‘84 site. These two events—the changing position of the Dock Board and Expo ‘84-created a unique opportunity for the City of New Orleans to reclaim a significant portion of its riverfront for public use and appreciation. Although Expo ‘84 was financially disappointing, it was a significant urban redevelopment success. This six-month event introduced millions of visitors and locals alike to a “new” portion of the CBD: the Historic Warehouse District and its riverfront. As well, its residuals have been redeveloped into the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Phase I (a $96 million project having 330,000 nsf of exhibit space), the Rouse Riverwalk specialty retail center ($40 million), and numerous historic warehouses that have been converted to both residential and commercial uses. In anticipation of the expanding tourist and convention markets, the Hilton Hotel also constructed a new riverside addition to their property; a 456-room, $48 million project.
The Riverfront Streetcar
The Riverfront Streetcar was first envisioned in the fall of 1984 by the Riverfront Transit Coalition (RTC), which represents the entire development and business interests within the Central Area Riverfront. Using their own finds, RTC members solicited a preliminary engineering assessment of the riverfront rail corridor for transit purposes. The findings of the national consulting firm of Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendelhall (DMJM) were released in the spring of 1985.
The Riverfront Streetcar “Red Lady” connects the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to the far end of the Vieux Carré at the French Market, with convenient stops along the riverfront.
Mayor “Dutch” Morial embraced the concept of an historic streetcar linking the riverfront developments and directed the RTC to work in partnership with the Regional Transit Authority (RTA). With the timely assistance of Congresswoman “Lindy” Boggs, federal interest was secured at the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA). Intrigued by the “public-private partnership” this project represented, they requested that a Section 3 discretionary grant application be submitted for their consideration. This grant application was completed in the spring of 1986.
The initial project was a single-track, three-vehicle system with an operating length of 1.9 miles. Preliminary cost estimates were for $3.9 million, with UMTA providing 67 percent and the local match being $1.3 million. Included with the original application were pledges by the private development interests to fund the construction of their respective station stops at a cost of $350,000. With this local financial support, UMTA approved the federal funds; however, they also directed the local partnership to retain the Rice Center, a private think-tank, to prepare a financial feasibility study with the primary purpose of identifying the probable annual operating deficit. This report was completed in the fall of 1987. Its findings were significant: daily average ridership was projected at 2,088, resulting in an annual deficit of $477,000. This caused great concern with the RTA; so much so that they required the RTC to pledge an annual operating subsidy of $200,000 per year for the first three years of operation. The members agreed to this additional condition and a contract was drawn up for the partnership.
Concurrently, a political decision was made to hold the Republican Party's 1988 Nominating Convention in New Orleans. Based upon this single event, a decision was made by local partnership (RTC/RTA) to proceed with the design and construction of the Riverfront Streetcar to open in conjunction with this national convention. Upon receipt of UMTA'S Letter of No Prejudice dated February 1, 1988, the project team began a frenzied but very well organized effort to deliver the project on time and within budget. DMJM was retained by the RTC to provide the engineering drawings and specification. The RTA, utilizing its own streetcar renovators, rehabilitated two vintage Perley Thomas streetcars. Two additional “renovated” Melbourne W-2 streetcars were purchased outright. These particular cars were chosen for their access for the handicapped. Utilizing the unique talents of both the public and private partners, the Riverfront Streetcar, against all odds, opened on August 14, 1988. In both the halls of the Nation's Capital and the bars of the French Quarter many wagers were made on the project's prospects. Working seven days a week, sometimes for days on end without rest, the design/construction management team, the contractors, suppliers, and the streetcar renovators of the RTA delivered the project as promised: single-track operation, three vintage streetcar fleet, eight station stops. This Herculean accomplishment defied traditional transit experience, the elements (torrential rains), and our arch enemy (time), and has been used by UMTA as a national model in achieving the impossible.
From its first day of operation, the Riverfront Streetcar far surpassed any of our expectations for ridership. The first three months indicated a daily ridership of approximately 4,500; far surpassing the original projection of 2,088 riders. Given this fact, in late 1988 all involved in the process agreed to proceed with an amended grant application for a two-track, six-vehicle system. And once again, another deadline was imposed on the project team. This time around we had to contend with and complete our project to meet the opening of the Aquarium of the Americas on September 1, 1990. Using the same project team, the project was scoped out with special attention given to budget and schedule. But this phase of the Riverfront Streetcar was much more complicated, for a variety of reasons. First, the project had to allow for the existing streetcar system to continue operating during construction. Second, the rail corridor was actively used by the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad. In addition, in order to secure a two-track system, the operating line of the Public Belt needed to be moved from its existing location adjacent to the existing streetcar system riverward approximately 15 feet and do so while the railroad continued to operate. Finally, jurisdictional requirements were imposed on the project (grade crossing signalization) after final budgets and schedules were prepared. However, given these obstacles, Phase II was delivered on time. In fact, on its opening day, September 1, 1990, the final catenary wire was activated a mere 15 minutes before the system became operational.
Now, four years later, the system is being viewed as a vital element of the Central Area Riverfront. In light of the expanding development along this corridor, both upriver and downriver extensions are being planned.
At the same time, adjacent to the Vieux Carré, an abandoned brewery and related riverfront sites were being developed as the JAX specialty marketplace. This multiphase $60 million project added anew and dynamic use to a former eyesore located adjacent to Jackson Square, in the heart of the French Quarter. As well, its developers were able to secure development rights to three Dock Board wharves (Upper Bienville, Lower Bienville, and Toulouse) along the French Quarter riverfront. Ultimately these wharf sites were developed into the Aquarium of the Americas and Woldenberg Park Phase I.
In view of the existing development occurring along the Central Area Riverfront and post-Expo ‘84 planned projects, the quasi-public and private-sector developers within this corridor recognized that, as more development occurred, a convenient transit System was essential for efficient movement of the millions of visitors along the riverfront and to the related developments. In the fall of 1984, the group formed the Rivefront Transit Coalition to find preliminary investigations for what became the Riverfront Streetcar.
THE AQUARIUM OF THE AMERICAS/OLDENBERG PARK
Recognizing the changing realities of the New Orleans Riverfront, in 1986 City Councilman James Singleton and representatives of the Audubon Park Commission started seriously discussing a new riverfront family-oriented attraction. After a successful visit to Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the National Aquarium, a concerted effort in both the public and private sectors was mounted to develop a world-class aquarium along the New Orleans riverfront. Although the concept was widely supported, a dedicated millage was required to be passed by the citizens of New Orleans to provide significant funding for both construction of the facilities as well as the ongoing operations of the aquarium and the proposed park. Adopted by the State Legislature in Act 309 and approved by the State Board Commission, a $25 milion bond referendum (tax millage) was authorized. The tax millage was required to pay the debt service on these bonds. Based on the impressive record of the Audubon Park Commission, the Friends of the Zoo (now the Audubon Institute) Foundation, a consortium of oil and gas corporations, as well as the local hotel/motel industry, the tax millage vote was successful with a 71 percent approval rate—a remarkable accomplishment when the citizens of New Orleans routinely reject any tax for any purpose.
With the vote behind them, the Audubon Park Commission moved toward securing a site for their proposed aquarium and riverfront park. Their preferred site was at the foot of Canal Street at the river and stretching downriver to the Moon-walk. French Quarter residents, preservationists as well as neighborhood interests in the Lower Garden District, strongly promoted an alternative site upriver of the Greater New Orleans Bridge: a former railyard converted into surface parking for Expo ‘84. After much debate, the City of New Orleans, the Deck Board and the Audubon Park Commission chose the French Quarter site. In a four-party agreement consummated during 1987, the City of New Orleans, the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority, the Dock Board and the Audubon Park Commission agreed to a multi-property land swap that resulted in the creation of non-encumbered property available for multiple projects including the Aquarium of the Americas and Woldenberg Park Phase I.
Demolition of the three French Quarter wharves occurred in the fall of 1987. Concurrently, the design team was created: a consortium of five local architectural firms. The actual construction began with the Test Pile Program in November of 1987. Woldenberg Park, a $6.5 million project, began in May of 1988. The 17-acre park was completed in September of 1989. The Aquarium of the Americas, a $25 million structure, was completed on time and opened to the public on September 1, 1990. In its first year of operation the annual attendance was 2.3 million visitors; original projections had been estimated at 868,000. Today this world-class facility is ranked among the most successful aquariums in the world.
Tangential projects affecting the Central Area Riverfront that occurred at this same time included the Phase II construction of the New Orleans Convention Center (a $126 million project with 340,000 nsf of exhibit space), the Phase 11 Riverfront Streetcar project (an $11 million expansion program), and the construction of One River Place, a luxury mid-rise condominium project.
THE RIVERFRONT STRATEGIC POLICY PLAN
During the spring of 1991, the City Planning Commission (CPC) recognized that significant levels of planning were needed to manage, coordinate, and direct the multitude of projects envisioned for not only the Central Area Riverfront, but for the entire 26 miles of riverfront on both banks of the Mississippi River. Utilizing both in-house staff, pro bono design and planning professionals as well as both the Technical and Citizens' Advisory Committees, the City Planning Commission began an arduous but most important task. The draft document was presented to the Board of Commissioners of the CPC in December 1991. Public hearings were conducted during the winter of 1992, with minor revisions being made prior to the issuance of the Final Plan during late 1992. The plan addressed the unique cultural and neighborhood peculiarities in some 13 separate geographic zones. Specific policy recommendations were made for land use, transportation, urban design and development. The CPC and the City Council have adopted this plan and continue to utilize it as the basis for decision making.
Curtailing Havoc on the Riverfront: The Role of Special Jurisdictions
Lary P. Hesdorffer Executive Director of the Historic District Landmarks Commission for the City of New Orleans.
Perhaps never before, at least not in recent memory, has the most prominent expression on the face of New Orleans been subject to such a dramatic series of changes. It began with the “awakening of a sleepy Southern city” and the “modernization” of the city's skyline, which resulted from the construction of skyscrapers beginning in the 1960s. However, the ever-so-well-meaning attempt to create access to the waterfront has resulted in a mad rush to acquire and control and develop as much of the property as possible on or near the river's edge in the area of the Central Business District and the French Quarter.
The general public was once separated from the river in these locations (as well as all up and down the riverfront) by a barrier of wharves and sheds that effectively prevented all public contact, visual or otherwise. New Orleans still has a very active port, but for several years its main industry has been tourism. So, the drive continues to enliven the river's edge with people. New attractions are needed to interest the public. Development maybe the goal and the lure of profit the means, but the problem lies in the independent motivation of developers whose success may come at the expense of the owners. The owners in this instance are the citizens of New Orleans.
The first breach in the riverfront barrier was accomplished 25 years ago when a public park, a landscaped stairway and viewing platform named Washington Artillery Park (Moonwalk), was built over the flood wall in front of famous Jackson Square. The park created a bold and formidable visual link between the heart of the French Quarter and the great Mississippi River. The project was a public effort by the City and was approved by the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC). The VCC is the nation's second-oldest historic preservation regulatory agency and is charged with protecting and preserving the French Quarter, even including its riverbank.
In subsequent years, the City witnessed other projects that affected major change to its riverfront, including the 1984 World's Fair that featured as its centerpiece the brand new convention center and had its international pavilion located above a working wharf Today, the Rouse Company's Riverwalk Marketplace is situated above the wharf and the Morial Convention Center is beginning its own third phase of expansion, spanning several city blocks … and creating a new barrier between the river and the city. Just a couple of years ago, the Audubon Institute (the zoo people) constructed the Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal Street, and at the same time established Woldenberg Park as a new public open space reaching from the aquarium downriver toward the center of the French Quarter. And still other developments are coming.
None of these developments have been permitted without very intense review and perhaps even approval by the appropriate historic preservation board, planning commission or neighborhood groups, each charged with their own responsibilities to guarantee the public's involvement. In most of these open hearings, proposals are publicly dissected, garnering either praise, condemnation, or both. Occasionally the viewpoints aired are carefully heeded; sometimes, the public expression may be thoroughly ignored. As with most public processes, compromise attempts to marry all factions to the final result.
In 1976,40 years after the creation of the VCC, the Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC) was formed. The City of New Orleans formally cast a watchful eye toward aesthetic planning, historic preservation and architectural appropriateness in areas outside the French Quarter. (The VCC had been protecting the city's Holy of Holies since 1936. In retrospect, 40 years may not have been such a very long time to officially recognize the richness of the city's architectural heritage,)
One of the biggest challenges ever to face the HDLC has been to offset the potential harm to the architectural fabric and character of the neighborhoods that it believes will result from the construction of the land-based casino, touted as the largest in the world under one roof Although the Commission's involvement has been intense and quite complicated over the past 20 months, the final verdict has yet to be heard. Some might say the HDLC has done too much; others, not enough. In fact, it has tried to follow its legislated role to offer the very best possible guidance in response to the proposals that came for review.
Too little space and time are available to give more than the briefest lip-service to this issue. However, as in each of the referenced riverfront projects, the citizen-based historic review board, with its specific intent, policies and guidelines, can almost always guarantee insight that will improve any project. With critical developments in sensitive areas, such as our precious riverfront, how can any city afford not to utilize such expertise?
A 1994 OVERVIEW
Currently, the Central Area Riverfront is experiencing a frenzied development phase, largely credited to the introduction of the gaming industry to New Orleans. At this time over $1.7 billion in projects are either under construction or are pending. At the site of the city's first Convention Center (the Rivergate), Harrah's is developing what may become the largest casino in the world. When completed, the project will represent a $470 million investment within the heart of the CBD. Its 200,000 nsf gaming area will contain over 6,000 slots, 85 gaming tables, and is planned to accommodate over 3.5 million customers annually. In addition, the riverboat casino Queen of New Orleans is already operating. This project represents a $60 million investment and is located immediately adjacent to the Hilton Riverside Hotel. Two additional riverboat casinos, with a landside terminal, are being developed upriver of the Greater Mississippi Bridge (now known as the Crescent City Connection) at the former Orange Street wharf. Upon completion this complex will represent a $97 million investment.
The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is also expanding. Plans are currently being made for Phase III, a $247 million project with 404,000 nsf of exhibit space, 65 meeting rooms, a 28,000 nsf ballroom, and a 4,000 fixed-seat auditorium/theatre. To accommodate the increased numbers of rivetfront visitors and residents, the City of New Orleans, in conjunction with the Exhibition Hall Authority, the Downtown Development District, and the State of Louisiana, is contemplating a $158 million infrastructure improvement program to address new roadway construction, streetcar expansion, etc.
Phase II of the Aquarium of the Americas is now under construction. Upon completion in 1996, the 66,000-square-foot expansion will include a 12,000-square-foot changing exhibit gallery, a 350-seat 3-D IMAX theater, and various support amenities. As well, the Audubon Institute, as part of its Riverfront 2000 program, is extending the existing Moonwalk downriver to the Governor Nicholl's Street wharf (a $1 million project) and constructing Phase II of Woldenberg Park (a 14-acre, $10 million project). The downriver anchor to these cultural facilities will be the planned Insectarium, a $15 million, 30,000-square-foot living science museum located at the convergence of Esplanade Avenue and Elysian Fields.
Over the years, the Friends of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) have nurtured and produced such famed artists and musicians as Wyn-ton and Brandon Marsalis, and Harry Connick Jr. Most recently, NOCCA purchased a series of historic railroad sheds located adjacent to the Press Street rail corridor, and is currently in the planning phase for a proposed $22 million state. of-the-art teaching and cultural facility. In response to these developments, especially the gaming and convention industries, there are currently approximatel y 3,500 hotel rooms (representing $250 million) in either the planning or construction phases, many located within or adjacent to the Central Area Riverfront.
The Queen of New Orleans, soon to be renamed the Flamingo, is Lousiana's first gambling boat in modern times. The Queen first spun her roulette wheels for the public on February 10, 1994. The Queen is a joint venture of Hilton Hotels Corporation and locally owned New Orleans Paddlewheels, Inc.
The New Orleans Central Area Riverfront has developed over the past 25 years into one of the nation's finest urban river-fronts, reflecting the multi-disciplined efforts of both the public and private sectors and the unique role played by project managers in the process. In order tofully understand the complexities involved in this effort, a brief overview of the jurisdictional realities existing within the two-mile section of the city's rivefront is required.
By State statute, the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans (the Dock Board) has overriding control of the riverfront and its landside wharves, and until the early 1980s, maintained complete control over these properties for maritime commerce (see “The Dock Board”). The Dock Board's 1982 Strategic Plan stated that these prime wharf sites would be considered for alternative non-maritime commerce uses; many of these wharves are now sites for a variety of developments.
In addition to the Dock Board, a variety of other jurisdictional authorities and advisory boards exist within this narrow corridor. They include the Army Corps of Engineers, the Orleans Levee Board of commissioners, the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the Vieux Carré Commission, the Historic District Landmarks Commmission, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office, the Downtown Development District, as well as the standard city agencies and departments (City Planning Commission, streets, utilities, etc.). For any project to be developed in this particular area of the city, each of these entities and/or authorities must be Successfully dealt with. (The particularly significant role of the Army Corps of Engineers will become evident later.) The existence of this multitude of jurisdictional entities create unique and ever-changing challenges for project managers.
THE FUTURE OF THE NEW ORLEANS RIVERFRONT
With the magnitude of development currently being planned and developed along the Central Area Riverfront, the future is both promising and problematic. Rarely in our city's history has so much development been concentrated in such a narrow and confined corridor. A popular analogy being used locally refers to our present dilemma: We have invited five 800-pound gorillas to our picnic, now what are we going to do about it?
Who are these invited guests? Specifically, they are the Harrah's land-based casino, the downtown riverboat casinos, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the Audubon Institute, and the Dock Board. Viewed individually, each is manageable. However, their collective impact on the CBD, the Warehouse District, and the Vieux Carré is awesome.
There is general agreement that up to this date we have managed and developed our riverfront with great success. Our challenge in the next several years is to proactively manage, plan and develop our riverfront to ensure its continued success. We have in place several mechanisms that will assist in our efforts: the Riverfront Strategic Policy Plan, a recently completed Riverfront Traffic and Transportation Plan, a Strategic Plan for the Historic Warehouse District as well as the jurisdictional controls of the City Planning Commission, the Historic Districts Landmark Commission, the Vieux Carré Commission, the City Council, and Mayor Marc Morial. What may be required, however, is a new institutional entity similar perhaps to Baltimore's Charles Center Inner Harbor Corporation, or other riverfront development authorities.
When attending next fall's PMI Annual Seminar/Symposium in New Orleans, you will be able to personally evaluate our performance. We hope to have progressed in a positive and proactive manner. That is certainly our intent.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
Managing and developing projects within the historic and complex context of urban New Orleans is a unique challenge for many professionals currently practicing in this city. In addition, given our relatively small geographic area, especially within the Central Area Riverfront, and our “small town” professional network, the overlap of professions and people involved in these individual projects is in itself a problem. We all serve many functions and wear many different hats. I, for one, am an urban planner, a transit system developer, neighborhood activist, a civic watchdog, and a downtown resident. With each of these roles come unique responsibilities, My colleagues as well serve equally diverse roles.
In addition, we all must contend with the unique political situation at work in this city. We believe that politics, as practiced in New Orleans, is an art form that would challenge any other metropolitan city in this country, The result is, we, as practicing professionals, must adapt daily to a changing environment, both physical and political. Consequently, we must be both multi-dimensional and have multiple perspectives on the project and its particular context.
Contingency planning in project management in this city is an absolute necessity. When applied creatively success can and does result. I also believe that we must constantly view our historic context when developing and implementing projects. In most areas of the Central Area Riverfront we are required to interface with and gain approval from numerous historic district commissions as well as representatives of the historic neighborhoods that our projects adjoin or abut. Our neighborhood activists are extremely able, knowledgeable and politically savvy. They do and will continue to play an important role in the development of all riverfront projects. Again, contingency planning is required.
Finally, I believe we as management professionals must become more multidimensional and cross-fertilize with our colleagues in foreign fields. Multi-disciplinary education and exposure is a critical component in our individual evolution, as well as its application to the betterment of our urban environments.
For example, as this city enters into a new era with the introduction of the gaming industry, there is a need for applied urban research and contemporary historical documentation provided from a pool of professionals from diverse disciplines. We, collectively, need to view our city and its near future as a potential urban laboratory. This effort should include both the academic and the professional communities and result in an interactive “learning” environment for use by our city's professionals, decision makers, political leaders and other cities throughout the country as they assess the impact of gaming on their communities.
Aquarium of the Americas and Woldenberg Park: The Centerpiece
Clyde E. Butler, The Audubon Institute, New Orleans, Louisiana
To the delight of locals and tourists alike, the Aquarium of the Americas opened on Labor Day 1990 to a record first-day-attendance crowd of 16,000 visitors. Hailed as a “must see” family attraction byword of mouth, visitors and the electronic media, the crowds continue to visit the world-class marine facility in record numbers. So successful was the aquarium that it exceeded the first-year-attendance projections (868,000 visitors) in its first 18 weeks of operation.
Located along the Mississippi River in the heart of the French Quarter, the aquarium building is located within two development zones. The downriver end of the building (a two-story glass and glazed-brick wing that fronts onto the river) falls within the Vieux Carré Dis-tict (VCD), where the maximum building height is restricted to 50 feet. The upriver portion of the building (a 145-foot-tall by 85-foot-diameter glass and steel drum) blends harmoniously with the other skyscrapers of the Central Business District (CBD). The two building sections are linked by a gently sweeping radius arcade (50' high by 16' wide) that extends beyond the ends of the building in each direction. The entrance to the building along this sweeping arcade is artfully marked by a portico/balcony, ornately caged in bright and colorful ironwork, bearing the signature logo of the Aquarium of the Americas. The facility is located within Woldenberg Riverfront Park, a 17-acre urban linear park that showcases a 25-feet-wide by 1,600-feet-long brick and limestone promenade, linking downriver with its predecessor, the Moonwalk (the first public access riverfront development). The upriver end connects with The Rouse Company's Riverwalk Marketplace and the River-boat gaming wharf.
The Aquarium entrance, befitting terminus to world-famous Canal Street and the Gateway to New Orleans' emerging riverfront, continues to seductively elicit first-time visitors in record numbers (2.3 million the first year). The aquarium exhibits are staffed by 400 volunteer naturalist guides. To date, they have donated nearly 300,000 hours in service to aquarium visitors.
The major design elements of Woldenberg mimic the pedestrian amenities (wrought-iron lamp posts, decorative iron tree grates, benches and trash receptacles) found within the French Quarter. With football-field-size, well-manicured grass lawns, formal gardens and elevated tree planters, Woldenberg Park has become the site of choice for several major local festivals, e.g., French Quarter Festival, Go 4th on the River, and Christmas in New Orleans. Under the city's “Art for Art Sake” program, Woldenberg Park is also the site of several large-scale environmental sculptures.
The Aquarium of the Americas was planned, developed, financed, managed, constructed and operated by locals. Unlike the ‘84 Expo, the aquarium project was developed with the local demographics in mind. The planning process began with a series of town meetings to educate New Orleans citizens on the value of such a development and to assure them that they would have an active voice in the planning and development process. This grassroots education effort was spearheaded by the Audubon Park Commission via its management arm, the Audubon Institute. Because of this grassroots effort, by the time the tax millage was to be voted on, the citizens of New Orleans were so well educated and informed about the development that the millage was approved by an overwhelming 71 percent of the vote.
With most of New Orleans being of minority ethnic descent, Act 309 of the Louisiana State Legislature, which created the aquarium project, also mandated specific levels of minority involvement in the planning, design, and construction of the project. Recognizing the burden being accepted by the local citizens, this state act also mandated specific levels of involvement within the construction process by parish residency, exclusive of ethnic descent. By the conclusion of the aquarium project, the Audubon Institute was able to document through Xavier University (a predominantly African-American university) that minority contractors realized a 27.7 percent share of the final $42.5 million construction cost, and minority architect/engineers received 26.5 percent of the professional service fees paid by the Audubon Institute.
The Audubon Park Commission/Audubon Institute (APC/AI), under the leadership of President and CEO L. Ronald Forman, agreed to accept responsibility for the planning, construction and management of the aquarium project. The APC/AI also agreed to raise $15 million from the private and corporate sector to match the $25 million city revenue bonds being financed by the local tax millage in order to fully fund the $40 million project. Given its excellent management record and the financial success of the local zoo, also managed by the APC/AI, the City of New Orleans approved a management contract with the Audubon Institute. In accord with the mandates of the state act, the APC/AI began its design team selection process from the available local talent. In December 1986, a five-firm Architectural Joint Venture Partnership (The Bienville Group) was selected to design the aquarium [see ‘The Project Team”].
The Audubon Park Commission/The Audubon Institute
During the mid-1960s, the Audubon Zoo was characterized by the media as an “animal ghetto.” The animal collection was poorly cared for and viewing was through jail-cell-like caged enclosures. Poorly maintained, the zoo complex reeked of animal manure.
Today, the Audubon Zoo is ranked among the top ten zoos in the United States, largely through the efforts of L. Ronald Forman, president and chief executive officer of the Audubon Institute (formerly the Friends of the Zoo), a private non-profit organization that has a management contract with the City of New Orleans to manage the affairs of the Audubon Park Commission.
Created by state act to manage the affairs of the Audubon Park and Zoological Garden, the Audubon Park Cm-mission is made up of a 24-member board, appointed by the Mayor of New Orleans. The Audubon Institute is managed by a 28-member board.
Under L. Ron Forman's leadership, the Audubon Institute has developed a collection of financially successful nature and science museums, second only to the Smithsonian. Current and planned facilities total $250 million in development, namely:
- Audubon Zoo
- Aquarium of the Americas. Phase I and II
- 3-D IMAX Theater (1995)
- Audubon Park
- Woldenberg Riverfront Park
- Freeport McMoran Audubon Species Survival Center
- Audubon Center for Research on Endangered Species (1995)
- Audubon Insectarium (1997)
To assist the Audubon Institute in its mission to cultivate awareness and appreciation of the Earth's resources and to help conserve and enrich our natural world, the Audubon Institute employs 625 people who work at these facilities. Through these developments, the Audubon Institute is responsible for $175 million in economic impact to the local economy. The Audubon Institute boasts a roster of 80,000 member households, and 200,000 individual members. Its annual operating budget is $25 million.
During this same period, two potential sites were identified as acceptable locations for the aquarium project. After many public hearings and much debate, and amidst allegations of VCD overcrowding and non-conforming use by preservationists, to include two unsuccessful law suits, the present aquarium site (Upper/Lower Bienville Street Wharf) was approved by the City Council of New Orleans. Construction bids were accepted in late spring 1988 and aquarium construction began in June 1988, with an unchangeable project “Grand Opening” date of September 1, 1990.
THE DESIGN TEAM AND DESIGN OBJECTIVES
The Audubon Institute's contract for architectural services was with “The Bienville Group,” named after the founder of the City of New Orleans. Through the Architectural Joint Venture, a host of local and non-local engineers and design consultants were hired.
Since neither of the local firms had any major experience in the design and planning of a world-class aquarium, the Audubon Institute quickly embraced the Joint Venture's decision to engage the consulting services of the Monterey Bay aquarium design team of Esherick, Homsey, Dodge&Davis (Chuck Davis) of San Francisco, California.
Art For Art's Sake: Through the urging of the Arts Council of New Orleans, the City Council adopted a policy of requiring all large developments to spend I percent of the project cost on art to be displayed in and around the development. The Audubon institute commissioned $400,000 of artwork from Louisiana artists and sculptors. The commissioned work is on permanent display throughout the Aquarium and Riverfront Park. Shown here: “Ocean Song,” a work in polished stainless steel by John Scott.
The Project Team
Clyde E. Butler
The Bienville Group, A Joint Venture,
New Orleans, Louisiana:
The Mathes Group
Eskew, Vogt, Salvato & Filson Architects
Esherick, Homsey, Dodge & Davis
Minority (EDB) Coordination
Morphy, Makofsky, Mumphrey, Masson (structural)
Warren G. Moses and Compan, (electrical)
Engineering Planning Group (civil/electrical)
Dunn-Lee-Smith-Klein and Associates (mechanical)
James M. Montgomery, Consulting Engineers (life support)
Cline, Bettridge, Bernstein
Cashio, Cochran, Terre/Design Consortium
Construction Management Consultant:
Walk, Haydel and Associates
Woodrow Wilson Construction (aquarium)
Gibbs Construction (park)
Guests to the aquarium are amazed by the transparent underwater coral tunnel, which holds 150,000 gallons of water to recreate the natural drama of a Caribbean reef environment. The stars of this 11O,OOO-square-foot environmental showcase are the fish, fauna, and wildlife that are exhibited in four major exhibits and exude the aquarium's central theme-seeing “life up close” in the waters and habitats of the Americas.
While each firm had equal decision making authority, the Audubon Institute directed that the Joint Venture select from within the group a person who would be responsible for:
- Joint Venture overall manager
- Project architect
- Chief design architect
- Chief technical architect
- Construction administrator
In order to satisfy the mandates of Legislative Act 309 and the extremely critical 24-month construction schedule. the Audubon Institute directed that the $40 million development be divided into 15 separate construction projects, to be independently bid. Due to mounting construction delays and an unchangeable “Grand Opening” date, the construction process was further subdivided into 24 separate projects. The bid packages were:
- 1. Test Pile program
- 2. Phase 1– Wharf Demolition*
- 3. Phase 1– Site Utilities*
- 4. Building Piles
- 5. Phase II – Wharf Demolition*
- 6. Phase II – Site Utilities*
- 7. Aquarium Building Shell
- 8. Park Construction*
- 8A. Park Benches*
- 8B. Park Trash Receptacles*
- 8C. Park Tree Grates
- 9. Park Landscaping
- 10. Park Security Building
- 11. FRP – Tank Liners (underwater)
- 11A. Rockwork (Amazon and Mississippi exhibits)
- 11B. Interior Landscape (Amazon and Mississippi)
- 11C. Graphics – Millwork
- 12. Graphics (Directional Signage)
- 13. Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (partial*)
- 14. Wharf Repairs
- 15. Harbor Police Building*
- 16. Kitchen Equipment
- 17. Emergency Generator
- 18. Telephone System
* Economically Disadvantaged Business (EDB) set-aside.
By establishing a process of definable minority (EDB) set-aside projects, the Audubon Institute was able to achieve its required legislative mandates without burdening the more specialized contractors with the requirement to include minority ownership involvement. The documented 27 percent minority participation translates into a construction dollar value of approximately $9.9 million.
The Audubon Institute's senior vice president of operations/construction served as the project manager responsible for the overall direction of the Joint Venture group as well as the 24 separate bid packages and contractors.
DESIGN COMPONENTS AND EXHIBITS
The aquarium's design theme focus is aquatic species of North, South and Central Americas, from which the name was derived. The building houses five major exhibits/habitats. Each habitat represents a mini ecosystem indigenous of the Americas, namely:
- Gulf of Mexico Gallery (500,000 gallons)
- Amazon Rain Forest
- Caribbean Reef Exhibit (225,000 gallons)
- Mississippi Delta Gallery
- Living in Water Gallery
The 110,000-square-foot building design features are:
- Non-corrosive construction materials
- Fully accessible for the handicapped
- 1.3 million gallons of fresh and salt water
- 60 separate exhibits ranging from 500 to 500,000 gallons
- 7,500 specimens (400 species), including fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians.
THE PERMlTTING PROCESS
The Aquarium of the Americas and Woldenberg Riverfront Park were permitted as two separate construction projects. Besides the normal permitting and approval process by various city and state agencies relative to life safety and building code compliance, both projects required permit approval from the Board of Commissioners of Orleans Levee Board, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
The aquarium site (Bienville Street Wharf) is located within a known and established flood control zone. The above named agencies are responsible for flood water control within the State of Louisiana. To satisfy the flood control requirements of these agencies, the aquarium building had to be situated on the site so that no portion of the building or foundation would project over the water of the Mississippi River. Additionally, a sheet pile bulkhead had to be constructed in front of the foundation (the entire length of the building) to prevent any earth movement (slippage) under the building in the direction of the river to ensure riverbank stability. Such a safeguard within the Woldenberg Park development was cost-prohibited, considering its 1,600-foot frontage along the edge of the Mississippi River. As an alternative to a sheet pile bulkhead, the engineering team offered a system of motion detection devices, permanently installed throughout the park, to monitor the stability of the wharf and the riverbank. Accepted by the regulatory agencies, the stability of the park is monitored (measured) bimonthly during low water Mississippi River stage (10.0 National Geodetic Vertical Datum and lower) and weekly to bi-weekly during high water Mississippi River stage (1 1.0 and higher).
The motion detection devices installed in Woldenberg are:
- Three plezometers (pore pressure transducers) to measure vertical changes due to head pressure changes during a falling Mississippi River.
- Three slope inclinometers to measure lateral movement versus depth in any direction.
- Three extensometers to measure movement of the “box levee” wall in the direction of the river.
- Six brass “survey markers” embedded in the wharf slab and rear roadway as a means to mechanically check for movement via surveying equipment.
After nearly five years of monitoring, there has been no appreciable movement or instability noted or recorded.
AQUARIUM OF THE AMERICAS - PHASE II
Phase II of the aquarium is scheduled to open on Labor Day 1995. When completed, the $25 million expansion will offer a 350-seat 3-D IMAX Theatre and a 12,000-square-foot changing exhibits marine gallery as its major components.
Recognizing that the demographics of its attendance base will not change, the Audubon Institute is banking on the financial success of its Phase II expansion by offering their existing 1.3 million annual visitors an opportunity to spend additional money in the form of a separate entrance ticket to visit its new 3-D IMAX Theatre.
The Phase II expansion was designed by the local architectural firms of Eskew Filson and Billes/Manning. Currently under construction, the facility is being built by a Florida-based construction company in joint venture with a local construction company, operating under the joint venture name of Centex-Rooney Landis.
James R. Amdal is president and founder of Comprehensive Development Services, Inc., a New Orleans-based urban planning development and applied research firm. He has served as project manager/principal author for numerous projects in New Weans. From 1984 through 1993, Mr. Amdal sewed as president of the Riverfront Transit Coalition Group, Inc., and as associate project manager of the Riverfront Streetcar project. Mr. Amdal is currently on the Board of Directors of the Riverfront Civic Association, and a trustee of the Historic Faubourg St. Mary Corporation.
In Recognition of his personal contributions to the revitalization of the New Orleans Riverfront, Mr. Amdal was given a 1994 lberville Award by New Orleans Magazine.
Based on the lessons learned during the construction of Phase I of the aquarium, the Phase II expansion is proceeding without any special permitting requirements or legal challenges from its neighbors.
The project was bid without any legal requirements to involve minorities in the form of set-asides. However, the Audubon Institute continuously seeks to have Economically Disadvantaged Business participation in their projects. To encourage the use of EDB contractors in the Phase II expansion, the Audubon Institute offered a sizable “bonus” to the General Contractor. To date, EDBs are under contract to be involved in the Phase II expansion to the value of $3.5 million. ❑
Clyde E. Butler, a native New Or-leanian, is senior vice president of construction and aquarium operations for the Audubon Institute. He also served as overall project manager for the development and construction of Phase 1 of the Aquarium of the Americas. He currently seines in the same capacity for the Phase II expansion. An architect by profession, Mr. Butler was formerly employed by Perez Architects, Inc. (master planners of the 1984 World's Fair), where he served as project manager for the Hilton Hotel development, the Meridian Hotel, the VA Hospital, and the Biloxi Medical Center Prior to joining the Audubon Institute, Mr. Butler served as director of operations for the $250 million mixed-use development, Canal Place 2000.
PMNETwork • October 1994