The City of New Orleans is ready to move forward with a permit to demolish the partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel following months of contentious discussions with the developer about how to safely bring down the structure and carefully remove two bodies still inside the rubble.
After a Civil District Court hearing April 30 regarding the developer's motion requesting the city approve plans, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a statement saying the city is prepared to issue a conditional permit for demolition. Cantrell says the city’s actions come after developer 1031 Canal LLC submitted a stamped demolition plan from a licensed engineer.
“The city of New Orleans has been persistent in its demand that the property owners of 1031 Canal Street/the Kailas family be held accountable in moving a safe demolition of their property forward, at their expense,” Cantrell said, referencing building owner Mohan Kailas. “The property owners have an obligation to address the damages they’ve caused to this city and its residents as a result of their collapsed building. There is no more time for delay, and a safe demolition should move forward immediately.”
An attorney for the developer said at the hearing that demolition site work could begin as early as May 4.
On April 29, the city set forth several conditions for the developer to meet to obtain the permit. The demolition team must provide:
• Up to $32 million in liability insurance, with the city included as an insured party on all policies.
• Identification of properties, streets and features within a 500-ft radius of the site, along with a plan to monitor these structures for potential damage.
• Documentation that all utilities to the collapsed structure have been cut, capped and made safe.
• Revised plans for controlling debris that falls into the building’s drop zone and surrounding collapse area.
• An updated schedule indicating dates for demolition milestones, such as the removal of cranes, the recovery of victims’ remains, evidence collection and when the site will be turned over from the city to the ownership team.
The city and developer reached the deal more than six months after the upper floors of the 18-story building collapsed while under construction on Oct. 12, killing three workers on the site and injuring dozens of others. Crews were able to pull out one of the deceased workers the day after the collapse but have been unable to recover the other two bodies because officials say the structure is unstable.
“The city’s priorities remain the same: returning the workers’ remains to their families, and holding the Kailas family/1031 Canal Development LLC accountable for their collapsed building,” Cantrell said.
The developer’s demolition team is led by Kolb Grading and subcontractor Marschel Wrecking. Under the demolition plan, the two bodies would be removed and the building’s upper floors would be taken down by July.
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 three historic buildings, two of which belong to companies owned by developer Mohan Kailas. The third belongs to Todd Trosclair, CEO of All-Star Electric and minority partner in 1031 Canal.
The developer would still need permission from the Historic District Landmarks Commission to remove the historic buildings, which the developer says are in the demolition drop zone.
For months, the city has insisted on implosion as the safest demolition option, while the developer favored a traditional, piece-by-piece demolition. Several proposals emerged, but none received the city’s approval.
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. The city came back with additional engineering questions about the proposal.
Last week, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese ordered the developer provide the city with answers to these questions by April 27, and for the city to respond with a permitting decision by April 29.
According to court documents, the new demolition plan would involve 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 precariously draped over the top of the building. Removing the crane would make it possible to clear out enough debris to access the two bodies trapped inside the rubble.
Then floors nine through 18—the collapsed, unstable hotel structure–would be demolished. And then floors one through eight, which consist of a concrete parking garage that is believed to be stable, would be brought down. Attorneys for 1031 Canal could not immediately be reached for comment.