A judge has set an April 29 deadline for the city of New Orleans and the developer of the Hard Rock Hotel to take action on a proposal to remove two bodies that remain in the partially collapsed building and bring down its upper floors by July.

Attorneys for the developer, 1031 Canal Street Developer LLC, filed a motion the week of April 20 for the city to approve the plan. The plan involves using cranes with wrecking balls, shears and other tools to pick apart and dismantle the structure from the top down. It would also require the removal of two adjacent historic buildings.

The city and the developer have been at odds for months over how to demolish what is left of the hotel, which collapsed while under construction on Oct. 12, killing three workers on the site. The developer favors a traditional, piece-by-piece demolition, whereas the city believes implosion is a safer option.

In their court filing, attorneys for the developer call the plan for a conventional demolition the “safest, fastest and most effective way to demolish the site without further impacting neighboring properties and to attempt to recover the remains of the workers inside the building.” They say implosion “will provide little, if any recovery of remains” and would “destroy evidence.”

The developer indicated earlier this month it had worked out a deal with Kolb Grading to dismantle the building and applied for city permits on March 27 to move forward with its plans for a conventional demolition. On Friday, the developer submitted engineering drawings to meet the city’s requests for additional information. The city went back to the engineer with additional technical questions.

At a court hearing April 23, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese ordered the developer provide the city with answers to these questions by April 27, at noon. The judge set a deadline for the city to respond by April 29 at noon as to whether the city will issue a permit for the demolition plans. Based on the city’s actions, the judge will make additional rulings at a 2 p.m. hearing that day.

A city spokesperson said in a statement prepared for ENR that the city is reviewing the plans, and has no further comment.

The developer’s attorney, Kerry Miller of Fishman Haygood LLP, said “1031 Canal Development, LLC was pleased to be able to present its demolition plan for the Hard Rock building this morning in court, including details … how the conventional demolition being advanced will not damage neighboring properties. 1031 Canal remains committed to a safe demolition process and is hopeful that work will begin soon.” 

The new demolition plan involves removing the remnants of two tower cranes that were brought down in a controlled demolition a week after the collapse. One of the cranes remains draped over the top of the building, and the developer’s attorney indicated in court documents that the crane “presents the biggest risk to the demolition crew.”

Removing the crane would make it possible to clear out enough debris to access the two bodies trapped inside the rubble. Workers have been unable to safely recover the bodies because officials say the structure is unstable.

According to court documents, the last stages of the demolition involve tearing down floors nine through 18 — the collapsed, unstable hotel structure – and then floors one through eight, which consist of a concrete parking garage that is believed to be stable. 

The demolition proposal comes after months of setbacks. The original plan was for demolition contractor Dem/Tech, an affiliate of Kolb Grading, to perform a controlled demolition of the hotel using explosives. That plan was replaced by a more conventional demolition, in which the building would be stabilized using temporary supports and shoring while workers take it down piece-by-piece. This change of plan pushed the schedule back to at least December 2020. 

In January, the city of New Orleans announced plans for the hotel to come down in late March in a controlled demolition by D.H. Griffin Cos., the same firm that oversaw the implosion that brought down the two tower cranes. But that deal fell apart after the State of Louisiana refused to provide indemnity to D.H. Griffin and its subcontractors, and the company was unable to secure the $50 million in liability insurance it needed to move forward with the demolition.

The developer’s new demolition team is led by Kolb Grading and subcontractor Marschel Wrecking. If the new demolition plan for the hotel is approved, the upper floors of the building would be taken down by July 24.