This should be quite interesting and will surely mess up traffic on the New orleans I-10 for the day.


File photoThe Grand Palace Hotel was photographed in February 2007. Originally Claiborne Towers, the structure will be imploded July 22 as part of the University Medical Center project.

Interstate 10 will be closed and several blocks of Mid-City and downtown will be under a mandatory evacuation July 21-22 as state contractors demolish the remaining shell of the old Claiborne Towers building at 1732 Canal Street, authorities said today. The implosion is part of the construction plan for University Medical Center.

Tom Rish of Louisiana Facilities Planning & Control, the state office overseeing the UMC project, confirmed the demolition would proceed at 8 a.m. July 22. There had been some question about whethera Thursday night fire, caused by the blowtorch of a worker preparing for the demolition, might delay the widely anticipated destruction of the 17-story edifice. Rish said the fire, confined almost entirely to an elevator shaft, caused no damage that would warrant a delay.

The only outstanding detail at this point is securing the go-ahead from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, though Rish cast that as a forgone conclusion. A state contractor, Contaminant Control Inc., has for months been engaged in asbestos mitigation, slowly dismantling the building to the point that it is open on all sides, with the frame, floors and stairwells visible from blocks away. The asbestos mitigation has already led to considerable delays for the demolition, which was first scheduled for November 2011.

Jerry Sneed, New Orleans deputy mayor for public safety, said multiple state and local agencies are involved with the demolition, which itself is expected to last a mere eight seconds. “The most important thing in all this is the safety of the public,” Sneed said.

Sneed said there will be no public viewing area for the demolition, though authorities conceded that many New Orleanians will want to watch the spectacle in person. “We want everyone to stay home and watch on television,” he said.

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The city will enforce a mandatory evacuation in the immediate area surrounding the structure, which sits on the northwest corner of Canal Street and South Claiborne Avenue. The evacuation zone is bound by North Johnson Street, Bienville Street, South Villere Street and Tulane Avenue. Occupants of an estimated 25 residents must be out of their homes by 7 p.m. on July 21, the Saturday evening before the implosion. The 30 businesses in the zone must be empty by 2 a.m. Sunday morning. “Anyone in violation will be subject to arrest,” Sneed said.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson said a portion of I-10 will be closed between 6 and 7 a.m. Sunday. Westbound traffic will be directed to exit at Orleans Avenue. Eastbound traffic will be directed to exit at Poydras Street.

Controlled Demolition Inc., a state contractor, will implode the building. Sneed said he would give the order to the individual detonators.

The interstate and evacuation zone will remain closed until safety and environmental inspections are completed and roadways are cleared after the blast. “It could be anywhere from a few hours to most of the day,” Edmonson said.

The blast is expected to send heavy dust about 150-175 feet in all directions. Lighter dust could settle as far as five or six blocks away. Authorities said the dust is not toxic, though Contaminant Control will monitor air quality before and after the implosion, Rish said.

A team of engineers from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development will check the structural integrity of the raised interstate, which sits about 50 feet from the edge of the property. The exercise is similar to what the same teams do after hurricane-force winds pass through the region.

A state hotline — 855.592.8146 — is established for residents with questions about the event. The line is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and will be open the day of the implosion, as well. Officials said they do not expect damage to other structures in the vicinity as a result of the blast, but Rish referred property owners who discover any problems to the hotline.

The total cost of the demolition, including CCI’s environmental work, tops $4 million. That comes in addition to the almost $10 million the state has paid or will pay for the property itself. Using Louisiana State University’s eminent domain authority, the state took the property in fall 2010, paying $4.5 million to Thoron, a Washington, D.C. development firm that had paid $3.3 million for the property in 2008. Thoron principals sued for more, and an Orleans Parish jury awarded them an additional $5.5 million, including penalties and interest. The verdict did not include court costs and attorneys fees. All told, the state’s expenses related to 1732 Canal Street exceed 1 percent of UMC’s projected $1.1 billion project cost. The hospital is slated to open in 2015.

When the hotel falls, it will mark the end of six decades for a structure once hailed as a modern marvel of mid-century American architecture and urban planning. Claiborne Towers opened as a mix of condominiums, commercial suites and street-level retail space. It passed through multiple owners, local and corporate, with several identities as a hotel or residential complex. The building never reopened after Hurricane Katrina.

Bill Barrow can be contacted at