Newell: A "unique mess" at Hard Rock collapse site has New Orleans on edge

Tropical Storm Nestor chases city officials into urgent action to avoid catastrophe

Newell Normand
October 17, 2019 - 5:28 pm

Five days after the initial collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel, challenges continue to reveal themselves, including the potential for complications from a tropical cyclone revving up in the Gulf of Mexico and the ongoing economic distress placed on downtown businesses as two major cross-town thoroughfares remain closed and detoured traffic snarls side streets in every direction. 

To discuss the impacts on the businesses near the collapse site and businesses farther out who rely on stable, clear downtown access routes, Newell invited Dr. Jose Bautista onto the program Thursday morning. Bautista is an Economics Professor at Xavier University. 

"I talked about this yesterday, thinking about the economic impact," Newell began. "The longer we talked, the more complicated we recognized this was really going to be. It's been referred to as a 'unique mess.' Your thoughts?"

"Very true, very true," Bautista replied. "There are a lot of moving parts to this that require immediate action - others require long-term planning. To the extent that the City can balance the loss in revenue with the opportunity gain revenue to compensate for the loss - they have to pursue that as best as they can. Think not just about the site itself, but the adjacent properties that were damaged, for example the Saenger - but also other properties that on the surface doesn't seem they were damaged. Like the parking garage right behind the site - they have to be very careful removing the cars that are still there. There is tangential damage that is not obvious on the surface. It may not always be immediate economic loss, but also potential losses."

"It could be several years before the hotel site transitions to rebuilding, right?"

"Also true. If we recall, that was the site of the old Woolworths, and if I remember correctly there was quite a discussion about granting a permit for a multi-story edifice at that location. Is that going to be revisited? Is that now something in the past, where a new developer can rebuild a multi story edifice, or are the zoning laws going to go back to what they were, permitting only a limited height there? That puts limits on what kind of commercial property that can be, and limits potential income."

Listen to the interview with Dr. Bautista in the audio player below.

Knowing what we do about the potential path of what is expected to become Tropical Storm Nestor, Newell asked Norma Jean Mattei, a Professor of Engineering at UNO about what heavy rains and wind can do to the site as officials scramble to secure it.

"Most of the construction materials up there don't absorb water," Mattei said, "Or don't absorb much, and it doesn't happen fast, so that's good. That doesn't mean there won't be nooks and crannies where water can accumulate and increase the weight on this structure, so that's a concern. Wind on the structure is a concern, but wind on the cranes is what really concerns me. They're trying to ascertain if the structure is moving, because any movement is not a good sign, particularly if it's progressive movement in the same direction. We really don't want those cranes to come down in an unintentional manner. The best thing would be to disassemble them in the method by which they are meant to be disassembled, but I'm not sure that's able to be done."

"We understand OSHA has begun to make their way into the structure to make their assessments; what should we expect from that?" Newell asked.

"They're probably like everyone else on the site, trying to ascertain what happened. They're probably gathering as much information as they can, gathering photographs, videos people have taken, taking a look at telltale signs where you might expect the evidence of failure to be. With so much of the building collapsed, that's going to be a hard thing to do, because you have to clear a lot of debris. But in a building this compromised, you have to consider those people's safety. You don't want any other casualties, that what makes this so hard. And having a wind event is not going to make it any easier. If it were me, I would be moving everyone to safety. If the wind goes above a certain level... everyone has to get out."

"What about temperature, does that have any impact?"

"Swings in temperature definitely can impact how a structure moves. When it gets hotter, everything expands, and when it gets colder, everything contracts. We've been blessed with this fall weather. We really don't want any variations in termpature to occur. It would be much better for the temperature to stay constant."

Hear the interview with Professor Mattei below.

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