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Watchdog: New Orleans should sell empty riverfront high-rise near Mississippi River

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NEW ORLEANS — A watchdog group says the city of New Orleans should sell a long empty office tower by the Mississippi River.

The city had reached a tentative lease agreement last year with Gatehouse Capital Corp. to redevelop the old World Trade Center building. But negotiations broke off in April, dashing hopes that the building would be converted into a luxury hotel and residential complex.

The Bureau of Governmental Research noted Tuesday that it was the third time such redevelopment efforts failed.

It says selling would mean the city could get the full value of the building up front while putting a valuable property back on property tax rolls.

The 1960s-era building is fondly remembered by many in New Orleans for its revolving rooftop bar.

City officials did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

The building was once a focal point for promotion of international trade. It also was once home to the office of the Port of New Orleans.

Gatehouse had been one of two entities that pitched plans to redevelop the building into hotel and apartment space in 2013. Another group wanted to demolish the building turn the property into a new public space.

The watchdog group acknowledges potential disadvantages to a sale, rather than a lease, including the city's loss of control over redevelopment.

"By awarding the building to the highest bidder, they might miss out on a more catalytic or desirable project," it conceded. "But after more than 15 years of failed development efforts, adhering to the same course of action appears to be a greater risk."

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