W Hotel on Poydras Street no more; owners rebranding as Le Meridien

August 11th, 2014

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Take a stroll down Poydras Street, and you might notice something is missing from the skyline.

The distinctive red “W” atop the shiny W Hotel is cloaked in a white tarp, and the owners say it won’t be returning.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is converting the 23-story hotel to a Le Méridien-branded property with a $29 million renovation.

For now, the 410-room hotel has been anointed with a more generic name, Hotel New Orleans Downtown.

General manager John Thompson likened the difference in brands to cities. The W Hotel tends toward an edgier, more modern New York feel, while Le Méridien is inspired by mid-century modern style in Paris with a focus on the arts.

“When Le Méridien talks about its affinity to culture, cuisine and the arts, what better destination could there be for food and the arts?” Thompson said. “It’s a perfect fit for what’s happening in the city.”

The tower was built in 1984 at 333 Poydras St., and Starwood purchased the property in 1999.

In the renovation, everything is being removed from the rooms, which will be revamped from scratch, Thompson said. The hotel will add 1,600 square feet of meeting space for a total of 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

The new hotel will be finished in early December, he said. Ten floors are already finished.

Most of the New Orleans area’s hotel rooms – 22,000 of the region’s 38,000 rooms — are clustered within one mile of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Thompson said the hotel will also build on its proximity to the nearby arts scene within the Warehouse District.

Starwood bought the Le Meridien brand in 2005 and now operates 100 locations in 40 countries worldwide.

Work begins on South Market District hotel

August 11th, 2014

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter CityBusiness

Interior demolition is underway at a nine-story downtown office building that will be part of a hotel property being developed by the group behind the South Market District project.

The joint venture of Broadmoor LLC and Palmisano Contractors has started work to clear office partitions and remove asbestos and lead paint inside the 136,000-square-foot building at 600 Carondelet St. Eskew+Dumen+Ripple designed the project.

Full construction is slated to begin by the end of this year and wrap up by the end of 2015 according to Megan McNeill, a spokesperson for the Domain Cos., The New York and New Orleans-based firm building the $200 million South Market District residential and retail development. Domain purchased 600 Carondelet in September for $5.5 million from Central Properties of Louisiana LLC.

According to plans filed with the city, the nine-story building will receive a complete overhaul to make room for a 234-room hotel with a rooftop pool. The developers plan to restore the exterior of the 80-year-old building to its historic condition by replacing the ground floor storefront aluminum windows, recessing the entrance and adding awnings. The building was once known as Max Barnett’s furniture store.

To read the full story, visit CityBusiness.

Ambassador Hotel set for ‘surgical’ renovations

July 31st, 2014

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter CityBusiness

After about a year of design and engineering work, the Ambassador Hotel on the edge of the Warehouse District is set for a more than $7 million renovation that, according to the property’s new owners, will be “methodical” and “surgical.”

The 164-room boutique hotel at 535 Tchoupitoulas St. is getting a complete overhaul that includes a newly designed lobby, restaurant and bar, upgraded plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems, and a new layout and renovation of all guest rooms and corridors with new furniture and fixtures.

Woodward Design+Build is handling design and construction. Work began earlier this week and the project is slated to wrap up by the start of next year. The hotel will remain open during construction.

The renovations are part of a change in ownership that happened last year. GB Lodging LLC of New York and Provenance Hotels of Portland, Oregon, purchased the Ambassador from New Orleans tourism magnate Warren Reuther in August for $15.85 million. The new owners are planning to rebrand the property later this year but have not announced a new name.

To read the full story visit, CityBusiness.

Louisiana holds sales tax holiday this weekend

July 31st, 2014

By: The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE  — Louisiana’s annual state sales tax holiday is Friday and Saturday.

Over the two-day period, most retail purchases are exempt from the 4-cent state sales tax, up to the first $2,500 of an item’s price.

The tax holiday doesn’t apply to vehicle purchases, meals at restaurants or taxable services, like hotel room rentals or athletic event tickets.

The state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business says the tax holiday will help stores still struggling after the recession.

Dawn Starns, state director for the NFIB, called the tax break period “the shot in the arm small businesses need,” and she encouraged people to shop at locally-owned stores.

Local sales taxes are still applied to purchases, unless a municipality added its own exemption.

Spirit Airlines announces nonstop flights from New Orleans to Chicago and Detroit

July 30th, 2014

By Mark Waller, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Spirit Airlines on Wednesday announced plans for nonstop flights from Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans to Chicago and Detroit.

The flights to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Detroit begin Nov. 6, said an announcement from the airline based in Miramar, Fla. On Friday (Aug. 1) Spirit plans to add direct flights to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport.

When all the flights are running, Spirit will have a total of five nonstop flights from New Orleans, including an existing route to the Dallas and Ft. Worth metropolitan area.

New Orleans committee bumps rules for Uber to the full City Council without a recommendation

July 29th, 2014

By Mark Waller, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

New Orleans City Council members on Tuesday (July 29) added more suggestions on how to regulate digital car services such as Uber during the second transportation committee meeting on the subject in as many months. But the group chose to forward a set of already proposed changes to the full council for its consideration, without any recommendation from the committee.

The council could take up the issue on Aug. 14 at the earliest.

Council member Stacy Head identified a need for enforcement measures against non-compliant drivers operating under digital dispatching services, suggesting immobilizing cars with wheel locks. She also said the city will need more financial resources to increase enforcement of transportation regulations when mobile device applications are active in the city, suggesting higher fees for transportation operators.

Council member Susan Guidry said the discussion wasn’t broad enough with its focus on tweaking rules for luxury car services. She said the city should also create regulations for ride-sharing services, because they inevitably will begin operating whether or not the law permits them.

The basic rule changes proposed so far are to eliminate a three-hour minimum for luxury car trips and to set a new range of minimum fees, from $25 for a sedan ride to $90 for a plush sport utility vehicle that includes a stop at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Uber, perhaps the most publicized of the companies with transportation apps, indicates it wants to start running its high-end car service, called Uber Black, in New Orleans. Ryan Berni, advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the administration presented rule changes for luxury cars partly because the city left that sector unaddressed during taxi regulation changes in recent years.

As she did during a similar hearing in June, Guidry pressed Uber representatives on the idea that they will introduce the lower tier ride-sharing version of their product, called UberX, after the limousine feature of their app is functioning. Uber’s public policy director for the Americas, Justin Kintz, told her the company would gladly discuss rules applying to UberX in the future.

The discussion, which lasted about three hours, echoed many of the pro-Uber and anti-Uber arguments that speakers raised at a hearing in June.

The company and its supporters describe a more efficient, reliable, inexpensive service that spurs improvements in transportation accessibility and opens an avenue for small operators to launch their own businesses. Its critics, often from the taxi and limousine industries, describe an unworkable economic model that lacks assurances of safety, pricing fairness and non-discrimination of customers by drivers.

One notable difference between the two meetings was the position of Malachi Hull, who last month sat with administrators as the chief of the city’s Taxicab Bureau.

City Hall dismissed Hull earlier this month. On Tuesday, he appeared, he said, as a concerned citizen. He spoke to the committee about dangers of lax regulation with digital car dispatchers.

He said services such as Uber exclude people who lack smartphones or credit cards. He described security ramifications of overseeing transportation systems, including examples from around the world of people using taxi services in terrorist plots and human trafficking.

“When you have a driver that’s not permitted, that’s called hitchhiking,” Hull told council members. “I want you to remember that.

Longer hours for Algiers ferry to start sooner than expected

July 29th, 2014

By Richard Rainey, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The delay to add more evening hours to the Algiers-Canal Street ferry line will be a weekday shorter than expected.

Veolia Transportation Services Inc., the private manager of New Orleans public transit, has decided to extend the ferries’ operating hours starting Friday (Aug. 1) rather than wait until Monday (Aug. 4), the company has announced.

The Algiers-Canal Street ferry hours
Days Current Hours New Hours
Monday – Thursday 7:15 a.m – 6:30 p.m. 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday 7:15 a.m. – 8 p.m. 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday 10:45 a.m. – 8 p.m. No change
Sunday 10:45 a.m. – 6 p.m. No change

Veolia Transportation Services Inc.

Under the new schedule, weekday service departs on the half hour and weekend service departs on the quarter hour. The first trip from Algiers Point will depart at 6 a.m. on weekdays; the last trip back from Canal Street will depart at 9:45 p.m.

The company delayed its roll-out of the new schedule in July because it didn’t have the staff to make the additional runs across the Mississippi River. Fifteen ferry workers quit or decided to stay with the state Department of Transportation and Development when it handed the reins of the ferry operations to Veolia in February.

The ferries will also run special extended hours on Wednesday (July 30) to help support “Wednesdays on the Point,” a series of free summer concerts at the Algiers landing. The ferries will depart in the morning at their regular time, but continue to run from Algiers until 9:15 p.m. and from Canal Street until 9:30 p.m.

Architecture panel approves wrap-around hotel

July 29th, 2014

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter CItyBusiness

The Architectural Review Committee for the Historic District Landmarks Commission has given conceptual approval for a new hotel and restaurant in the Central Business District.

HW Real Estate Development Corp. of Chicago is planning to build a 138-room hotel and ground floor restaurant on a 26,000-square-foot L-shaped lot that faces Julia Street on one end and Baronne Street at the other. The property also wraps around an existing two-story residence on Julia Street and a four-story building on the corner of Baronne and Julia.

The planned development spans two zoning designations, one that allows buildings no higher than 75 feet and another with a limit of 65 feet. The current design of the hotel has a three-story and four-story portion facing Julia Street, a five-story portion facing Carondelet Street and a six-story portion facing Baronne.

For the full story visit, CityBusiness.

One-year boost expanded job total to 552,000

July 27th, 2014


Nonfarm employment in the New Orleans metropolitan area increased by 8,100 jobs for the year ended June 30.

That one-year boost of 1.5 percent expanded the New Orleans area’s rebounding job total to 552,000, according to seasonally unadjusted numbers released Friday by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

“Southeastern Louisiana appears to be entering a phase of growth unseen for decades,” said Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc.

Hecht said the region’s economy is “underpinned by both oil and natural gas, supported by trade and advanced manufacturing and augmented further by technology and other new industries, like water management.

“Greater New Orleans has an exceptional opportunity for diversified job creation in the coming years. It is now our responsibility to make investments in training and infrastructure to maximize this economic opportunity.”

To view the full story visit, The Advocate.

Orpheum Theater renovation underway in hands of new owners

July 25th, 2014

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The Orpheum Theater has played host to silence for nearly a decade.

The 96-year-old space, shuttered since Hurricane Katrina, is the preferred venue for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra because of its pristine acoustics. Going back further in history, it was a stage for vaudeville, then a movie house.

The last time Roland von Kurnatowski remembers attending an event there was the 1960s. He was a kid going to see “PT 109,” the biopic about John F. Kennedy’s World War II service in the South Pacific.

Fifty years later, a rolled-up movie screen still hangs above the stage, and von Kurnatowski is a new owner of the Orpheum, overseeing a $13 million year-long renovation of the theater.

Even in its state of disrepair, the majesty of the Orpheum persists.

“I can imagine what performing on that stage would feel like with your audience so close,” von Kurnatowski said. “Something about it — it really grabs your attention. It’s a confirmation that this is a special place, very deserving and worthy of the effort.”

He and his wife, Mary von Kurnatowski, are perhaps best known as the owners of Tipitina’s club and founders of Tipitina’s Foundation, which supports music culture by supplying instruments and internships to young musicians. They bought the Orpheum for $1.5 million in February with business partner Dr. Eric George.

It was listed for sale last year for the third time since Katrina, after years of failed promises from other developers to rejuvenate the performance hall.

Roland von Kurnatowski drove past the Orpheum a couple of days before Thanksgiving last year and saw the for-sale sign. He recognized the name of a friend, real estate broker Don Randon, and picked up the phone. Three days later, he had written an offer.

“I knew right away it was going to be all about bringing it back to what it was,” said Mary von Kurnatowski.

The new owners hope to restore the history while creating a space for multiple uses, from the return of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and other musical performances to movie premieres, private events and fundraisers.

An adjustable floor that can move from sloped to flat, along with removable seats, will give the space flexibility, the owners said. The previously unused basement will be renovated into 15,000 square feet of new space, they said.

In the sweltering hot days before modern air-conditioning, audience members were cooled by a pit of dry ice in the basement. The cold air traveled through vents in the wood floor, pulled upward by fans.

That pit will be turned into a private party space with a kitchen. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tipitina’s Foundations will put their offices downstairs.

The project is expected to be finished in the summer of 2015, in time for the orchestra to open its 2015-2016 season in the Orpheum that fall.

“To be able to go home to the theater that was home to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for all of its history up until Katrina is really a significant development for the orchestra,” said the group’s CEO James William Boyd.

Boyd said the acoustics of the Orpheum have been described as “rivaling Carnegie Hall,” and the group is hopeful that its return will attract first-time and returning concert-goers. “We can’t wait to get in there,” he said.

Also in the works for the theater: new suites with a private bar in the highest seating area, and a new entryway, among other improvements. Existing plaster walls, ceiling and decorations will be preserved and restored to original colors.

The owners hope to see the mission of Tipitina’s Foundation extended through the theater, offering another stage for young musicians to experience. Among other programs, the foundation has given $2.7 million worth of musical instruments to schools across Louisiana and opened up music performance to students through an internship led by Donald Harrison.

As the renovation begins, locals’ memories of the theater are everywhere.

“When I say I’m working on the Orpheum, almost every single person has shared a personal account or experience in the theater, especially people that have grown up here and have nostalgia for the building,” said Kristin Shannon, business development director. She also remembers singing on the stage for a holiday performance.

Bethany Paulsen, Tipitina’s Foundation managing director, said her group is still exploring exactly how a partnership with the new Orpheum will work, but it will be a relationship that benefits students and musicians alike.

“Having a venue like this back in New Orleans and adding to that list of venues that we can bring in top performers, that serves the community and Louisiana’s music scene, that serves everyone,” Paulsen said.

The theater is on the National Register of Historic Places. The owners are pursuing state and federal historic tax credits, according to plans filed with the city.

The Orpheum would be the third of downtown New Orleans’ four historic theaters to reopen in recent years. The Joy and Saenger theaters were recently restored, while the Loews State Palace theater remains shut down.



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