Hard Rock Demolition Plans Are Still Uncertain

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

NEW ORLEANS – It’s been almost four months since the Oct. 12 Hard Rock Hotel partial collapse and yet there is still no confirmed plan to demolish the building, remove the remains of two of the workers who were killed during the disaster and decide the future of the site.

First, city officials announced plans to use explosives to implode the building. Then there was talk about building scaffolding and taking it apart in pieces. Now, the momentum is shifting back toward an implosion that is likely to take place sometime after the Carnival season. A spokesman for the mayor’s office confirmed in an email to Biz New Orleans that mid-March is the planned time frame for the controlled implosion but no specific date has been announced.

Estimates are the emergency has cost the city around $12 million so far in direct expenses and lost revenue.

One of the main reasons the project has been stuck in neutral — besides the beginning of what is likely to be a lengthy legal struggle to determine fault and financial responsibility – is that demolishing an unstable building is an uncertain process. Experts say that the more uncertainty there is, the more expensive something like this becomes.

“There are a lot of unknowns and you’ve got to think about what’s the worst-case scenario and what that is going to cost,” said Norma Jean Mattei, a professor at the University of New Orleans Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

“In an implosion, the worst-case scenario would be that it doesn’t occur the way they planned so that it seriously damages the street and utilities or parts fall on neighboring buildings,” she said.

“You’ve got heavy things falling from a great height and at a great velocity and so that’s a lot of energy that has to be stopped by the street and the earth. If they fall down on top of each other then, hey, life is good and you start debris removal. But if you have something that is falling and it is narrow like the crane boom it will act like a spear and pierce pretty deeply.”

In New York and other big cities, it seems like engineers demolish tall buildings on a regular basis without much hand-wringing or fanfare. This, however, is a different scenario, said Mattei.

“When you’re thinking about imploding a building and you’ve got plans and you can crawl around in it, you know what you’re dealing with,” she said. “You’ve got a much better idea of knowing how strong the building is in different locations so that you’re not guessing. 

“With this building, you’ve got pieces and parts that are damaged because of the initial failure and the subsequent pancaking. Then you’ve imploded those cranes where the big counterweight got swung into the building that caused more damage. So you really don’t know if what caused the initial failure is more systemic or if it’s just in a certain part.”

Pressure is mounting on city leaders and the developers to do something. On Jan. 24, protesters marched from the Hard Rock site to City Hall to demand action and honor the workers who were killed in the incident. At this point, plans are unclear.

“If you take it down piece by piece it’s going to take a long time,” said Mattei. “You’re going to have some kind of area where you set down the pieces and then you’re going to have trucks that are coming and going for a much longer period of time. If you implode it you’re still going to have trucks coming and going but it will take less time.

“It’s costing the city I don’t know how much per week keeping the location secure plus all of the business being impacted because of their proximity and traffic issues. The longer it takes the longer the headaches continue.”

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