Hard Rock Hotel demolition: Process will stretch many months into 2020, officials say

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NEW ORLEANS:

Get used to the sight of the partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel: It’s going to be looming over Canal Street well into next year.

New Orleans officials said Thursday they don’t expect to recover two bodies trapped on the site until March and contractors won’t finish demolishing the building’s severely damaged top floors until at least late summer, almost a year since the building crumpled without warning Oct. 12.

The complicated demolition process will likely prompt changes to Carnival parade routes, but officials stressed that safety and the need to recover the bodies will drive decisions about parades, not the other way around.

“It is a painstaking process, but once again the goal is that nobody loses their life, or an injury,” Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said at a press conference.

City leaders and engineers are still finalizing their demolition plan and expect to offer more details next week.

But the broad strokes have already been decided. Crews will install shoring on a “transfer deck” on top of the building’s first eight floors, which are made solely of concrete and are relatively stable.

The shoring process will begin as early as next week. Shoring up the building, officials hope, will allow crews to safely retrieve the two bodies and to gather evidence of the collape

The demolition process will then switch to removing the top floors of the building, which were made of a composite flooring system of concrete and metal. The city hopes to finish that process around late summer.

That will leave the building’s concrete-only lower floors, which Mayor LaToya Cantrell has insisted will come down as well.

The timeline will mean a long wait for the families of two of the three men who were killed when the building collapsed. Although one body was retrieved the next day, crews were unable to access two others.

Relatives of Quinnyon Wimberly, a 36-year-old construction worker killed in the collapse, gathered Saturday at Elk Place and Canal to remember his life and publicize their plight. Their memorial was held at the same intersection where city officials spoke on Thursday.

McConnell said he recognizes the pain that the extended recovery process has caused for family members of the collapse victims. But he said he couldn’t send in recovery crews without shoring up the building f

“It’s just simply not acceptable at any time that you would get someone killed or hurt trying to recover the remains,” McConnell said. “If it could be done, we would have done it.”

Meanwhile, officials once again stressed their concern for businesses in the area, which have suffered from outright closures or meager pedestrian traffic. Collin Arnold, the city’s homeland security director, said workers built a pedestrian detour that allows access through the upriver side of the 1000 block of Canal Street, opposite the collapse site.

Despite the detour, it appears unlikely that any parades will roll through that block in 2020. City agencies are preparing alternate plans, Arnold said.

“We’re going to continue those conversations and have a good viable plan, very shortly, for how we’re going to address not having the 1000 block of Canal available during Mardi Gras,” Arnold said.

The press conference Thursday came after weeks of uncertainty over the fate of the massive eyesore at Canal and North Rampart.

The $85 million hotel project was being developed by 1031 Canal Development LLC, a consortium headed by developer Mohan Kailas. It partially collapsed with over 100 workers on site on Oct. 12. Crews used explosives Oct. 20 to crumple two cranes that had been teetering dangerously over the construction site. Soon afterward, the city said it expected contractors to use explosives to implode the rest of the site in January.

But officials backed off that plan in November, citing the threat it posed to nearby buildings. Instead, the city said it expected crews to undertake the painstaking process of stabilizing the construction site and then picking it apart piece by piece.

  • Published Dec 12, 2019 at 4:20 pm | Updated Dec 12, 2019 at 4:46 pm

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