Municipal Auditorium for City Hall? Not so fast, Cantrell’s CAO says

By Kevin Litten

Source: | The Times-Picayune

September 18, 2018

New Orleans city officials are still in the very early stages of exploring options for a new City Hall, and the Municipal Auditorium is one the buildings being examined, Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano said Tuesday (Sept. 18).

In an interview, Montano walked back comments Mayor LaToya Cantrell made earlier in the day during a Bureau of Governmental Research breakfast meeting, when she was asked about the future of the vacant auditorium damaged during Hurricane Katrina. The mayor said the building was being considered to house a civic center and City Hall, and she discussed a variety of funding streams that could be used to complete the project.

But Montano said an interview later in the day that the administration hasn’t even begun researching the space it would need to move City Hall. In the past two weeks, the city has requested proposals from consultants to help determine those needs. Its current 10-story City Hall on Perdido Street has 330,000 square feet of office space, and it leases another 118,000 square feet at 1340 Poydras St.

“City Hall is a sick building and we have to be sure we have the ability to move or remodel,” Montano said of the 1958 building. “The building is aging, it’s falling apart and there’s more maintenance that goes into it than it is worth.”

According to the request for proposals, the city wants a consultant to survey the city’s existing spaces and create floor plans showing the current layout. The chosen consultant would also be asked to determine how much space the city would need based on personnel numbers, equipment and security needs and how to improve organization. The city also wants research on recent construction projects of similar size and cost estimates.

Cantrell’s comments reflected a discussion that’s been ongoing internally about the buildings that are in the city’s portfolio, Montano said, adding that Municipal Auditorium came up as the administration attempts to assess its options.

“You start evaluating the properties you own,” he added, because renovating an existing building could end up being cheaper than building new or leasing space.

Another option that’s been floated is moving into a renovated Charity Hospital, and Montano said that option is still on the table.

Former Mayor Mitch Landrieu floated plans to move City Hall and the Orleans Parish Civil District Court to Charity Hospital during his first term, but he abandoned the idea in 2014 when projected costs soared to well over $300 million.

Officials at LSU, which owns Charity Hospital, are currently reviewing proposals from two developers for a redevelopment, one of which contains an option for moving City Hall there. It’s not yet clear how a move to Charity Hospital would cost the city.

Citizens have not been asked uet about a proposal to move City Hall, Montano said, and Cantrell intends to hold public meetings in “late fall or early winter” about future proposals.

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