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New Orleans Council Approves Land Swap to Move City Hall

The unanimous vote will allow the city to exchange some of its own land for a parcel that is currently owned by the state. If the mayor and state commissioner approve, city hall and the Civil District Court will relocate.

The New Orleans City Council voted Thursday, March 21, to approve a land swap that will pave the way for the city to replace its aging headquarters on Poydras Street with a new complex on the adjacent Duncan Plaza property.

The unanimous vote allows the city to give up a portion of land it owns near the Caesars Superdome in exchange for a section of Duncan Plaza currently owned by the state. Plans also include relocating New Orleans Civil District Court.

An agreement to complete the swap still needs to be signed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Taylor Barras.

Cantrell said in a written statement that giving City Hall and Civil District Court sufficient space at Duncan Plaza "will strengthen our workforce and increase our assets, ultimately working to provide better services for our residents."

"I look forward to continue working with the New Orleans City Council and Governor Landry's Office to make this a reality," she said.

No timeline has been released for when any project might start, and the administration hasn't provided any updates on what might be the next steps.

Still, Council members celebrated the ordinance as a major step towards building a more functional seat of New Orleans city government, a long-sought goal by city leaders who have come up short when trying to relocate for years.

"This is something that has been worked on for decades, from administration to administration," said Council President Helena Moreno. "It has taken a long time to come to fruition but it's the deal of a lifetime."

Even if the agreement receives all its signatures, officials would face a long and costly road ahead to make a new City Hall a reality.

City officials estimated last year that it would cost around $250 million to construct a new complex, though Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said at the time that it was too early to make an accurate estimate.

The current building opened in the 1950s and New Orleans leaders have long pushed to replace it. Former-mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed repurposing the former Charity Hospital but couldn't convince city judges to make the move as well, which scuttled the plan. Cantrell pushed for using a renovated Municipal Auditorium in Louis Armstrong Park as City Hall, but the plan died in the face of opposition from nearby residents.

The proposed Duncan Plaza deal appears to have the support of multiple stakeholders following extensive negotiations between city and state officials.

Officials had tentatively reached an agreement in October for a swap involving different parcels of land. Under that plan, the city would have exchanged an L-shaped property that includes the current location of Civil District Court on Loyola Avenue and the surface parking lots around the corner that front Poydras Street nearly to LaSalle Street.

City officials have been pushing for the version of the deal that the council approved Thursday, in which the state can take ownership of the perimeter roads around the Superdome. But state officials under then-Gov. John Bel Edwards said it wasn't a good deal for the state.

That calculus has appeared to change under Gov. Jeff Landry's administration. The swap would allow the state to gain additional control over the Superdome area as the city prepares to host the Super Bowl in February 2025. It is unclear if this is a factor in current officials' interest in the swap, or how the state might use its control over the land.

The ordinance approved by the council on Thursday also includes a payment by the city to the state of $2 million in order to bring the two sides of the trade to equal values, which is required by state law.

(c)2024 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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