As Civic Center redevelopment plans begin to come into focus, city officials have not yet made it clear where Carnival revelers might meet in the future.
Onetime plans to redevelop the 22-acre site with an arena concept to hold future Mardi Gras balls may or may not still be in the works. City spokesman George Talbot said the city is committed to finding a “solution” for Mardi Gras, but it may be separate from the Civic Center redevelopment.
“What we need is a solution for Mardi Gras,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be on the Civic Center site. It could be elsewhere.”
The city received proposals from three developers by the March 12 deadline. The third developer has since dropped out, Talbot said, leaving two remaining development teams, each led by national firms with many local subcontractors.
“We met with the development teams last week,” he said. “We had very good, in-depth conversations. They both sat down with us over the course of one day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.”
Following the meetings, the development teams will go back and “refine” their proposals, Talbot said. It is possible a plan could be selected by the end of April, although there is no hard timetable, he said.
“It’s going to be a phase with a lot of back and forth happening with each team,” Talbot said.
The proposals are light on specifics, but both employ a mixed-use concept of residential, retail and commercial development, Talbot said. However, the concepts are not identical, he added.
“They are very different,” Talbot said. “They prioritized different aspects.”
The whole process is being managed by commercial development firm CBRE. The firm also completed a facilities assessment of the property.
The assessment, completed in November 2017 and updated in April 2018, described the center’s condition as “fair to poor” and noted it “would need a major intervention if the complex is to continue in its current use.”
“The subject exhibits years of accrued deferred maintenance, which has reached a point where catastrophic failures of certain systems could occur at any time,” the report states. “Specifically, the air conditioning system is increasingly at risk for rendering the building un-usable for contracted events and the fire alarm system is one breakdown from the building having to operate under a manual fire watch. Long-term failures of the canopy roofs have resulted in damage to the affected concrete roof decks with delaminating and falling material that have required the erection of pedestrian barriers in some locations.”
CBRE found more than $14 million would be needed in the “short term” to properly maintain the arena building. This doesn’t include nearly $100,000 to get the site into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
CBRE suggests another roughly $3 million could be spent on maintenance on the theater and about $2 million on the exhibit hall.
The costs associated with future upkeep is one of the reasons the city is interested in redeveloping the site. The interest is at least somewhat mutual, Talbot said.
“We’re definitely getting a lot of interest from the development side,” he said. “We hope to end up with something that really complements the rest of downtown.”
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