Council approves new hotels in French Quarter, Warehouse District

February 7th, 2015

BY JEFF ADELSON

Two new downtown hotels — including the first new hotel to be built in the French Quarter in nearly half a century — got the go-ahead from the New Orleans City Council on Thursday.

The unrelated projects have both been controversial, drawing fire from nearby residents and neighborhood groups in the Quarter and the Warehouse District.

And while opposition to the project on Tchoupitoulas Street seems to have ebbed with an agreement to reduce its height, groups representing Quarter residents remained concerned that a new hotel at 111 Iberville St. could trigger a wave of similar projects elsewhere in the neighborhood.

The plan in the French Quarter is to convert a blighted building across the street from the Westin Hotel into an 80-room boutique hotel. The building was erected in 1885 as the office for the Louisiana Sugar Refining Co.

It’s the second time developers Wayne and David Ducotehave tried to win approval for such a project, having made a previous attempt in 2004. This time, the council approved their plans 7-0, with members saying they were glad to see that a blighted property would get fixed up.

Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell compared the rundown building to an unkempt armpit. “We need to shave this armpit and bring it back smelling good and looking good,” she said.

It would be the first officially authorized new or expanded hotel in the Quarter since the city put a moratorium on them in 1969 to keep developers from crowding out residents or harming historic buildings with tourism-focused projects.

The Ducotes’ previous attempt was championed by then-Councilman Jay Batt and received the council’s approval before drawing a rare veto from then-Mayor Ray Nagin. The idea was put on the shelf after Hurricane Katrina struck shortly thereafter.

Representatives of French Quarter groups reiterated their opposition to the project at Thursday’s council meeting, arguing it would open the door to other hotel projects in the historic district.

Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, said that while her group supported redevelopment of the site, it worries that approving a hotel sets a bad precedent. She asked council members to strip language out of the city code that might give future developers “wiggle room” to get past the moratorium.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry tried to calm those fears. She argued that the council’s approval could apply only to the Ducotes’ project.

“This is the only building in that zoning district that qualifies,” Guidry said, referring to the VCS-1 Vieux Carre Service District. “New hotels are and will remain prohibited in all other zoning districts in the French Quarter.”

While the Warehouse District hotel project generated less public debate, it also saw a more divided council.

The project, proposed by a company called Fillmore Hospitality, originally called for turning what is now a surface parking lot at 632 Tchoupitoulas into a 75-foot-high Cambria Suites hotel, 10 feet taller than the interim zoning district that covers the area allows. That generated significant neighborhood opposition, which prompted the developers to scale the project back to 65 feet.

Cantrell, whose district includes the site where the hotel will be built, said the $35 million development would help fill in a series of once-empty lots. And she noted that with the height change, no residents showed up to protest the project.

The council approved the project by a 4-2 vote, with President Stacy Head and Guidry voting “no.”

Head said the project still does not comply with the city’s master plan, and she argued that the council should not be allowing specific projects to skirt the rules.

“I don’t like changing the rules for a particular development,” she said.

Thursday’s vote reaffirms a 4-2 council vote last year giving the project conditional approval. The vote allows the developers to have six floors rather than five in the building.

Editor’s note: This story was altered on Feb. 10, 2015 to correct the vote on the hotel project at 632 Tchoupitoulas. The initial version of the article stated that Councilman Jason Williams was absent during the vote but he voted in favor of the project.



Doubletree New Orleans sells for $85 million

February 4th, 2015

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter , City Business

Another prime hotel property in the downtown area has changed hands. The Doubletree New Orleans on Canal Street recently sold to a Chicago real estate investment firm.

Walton Street Capital, a private equity real estate investment firm, paid $85.25 million for the 367-room hotel at 300 Canal St, according to Orleans Parish sales records. The deal, which closed Jan. 14 and was recorded Tuesday, breaks down to roughly $232,290 per room.

The hotel was purchased from Canal Street Property LLC, a Delaware company. Louisiana corporation records list Christopher D. Schott of Burrus Investment Group in Metairie as the registered agent for Canal Street Property. Schott could not be reached for comment.

To read the full story visit CityBusiness.



Armstrong seeks to build on passenger momentum

February 4th, 2015

By Robin Shannon, Reporter City Business

Armstrong Airport trumpeted the news last week that it finally surpassed pre-Hurricane Katrina passenger numbers in 2014, nine years after the storm. On Thursday, it plans to announce a new direct international flight.

After serving 9.78 million passengers last year  — a 6.3 percent increase from 2013 and the highest end-of-year total since 2004 — Armstrong officials are bullish on exceeding those numbers this year.

The summer has been when New Orleans traditionally sees a slowdown in traveller interest. But now that the city has regained its tourist momentum, airport officials are actively pursing new service.A closer look at airport data shows the increase has come at an unexpected time, and its leadership is working currently to build on that momentum.

For the full story visit City Business



Sites chosen for 2 Moxy hotels in New Orleans

January 30th, 2015

By Robin Shannon, Reporter City Business

A hotel brand specifically geared to the millennial traveler is set to make its debut in the New Orleans area.

Marriott International announced this week it plans to introduce its new Moxy Hotel line in the U.S. in 2016. New Orleans was named along with New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle as locations where eight new developments are planned over the next two years.

The release lists three projects slated for New York but does not specify what is planned for the other four cities. The timeframe for opening of the U.S. locations is not immediately known.

Two of the developments could be coming to New Orleans. Lenny Wormser, managing director for the hospitality division at NAI Latter and Blum, said the developers behind a planned hotel project at 744 St. Charles Ave. have filed paperwork to become a Moxy franchise location. Wormser is a development consultant for the project, which is still going through the design review process with the city. The development is expected to have about 100 rooms.

For full story visit City Business



New Orleans airport announces new non-stops to Branson, Cincinnati and Cancun

January 29th, 2015

By Jed Lipinski, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is getting three new non-stop flights to Branson, Mo., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Cancun, Mexico.

Starting May 6, Branson AirExpress, operated by Orange Air, will offer flights from New Orleans to the above cities on a 150 seat MD-83 jet aircraft, airport officials announced Wednesday morning.

Discount flights to Branson, Cincinnati and Cancun can be purchased now through FlyBranson.com or BransonAirExpress.com. Flights to the first two cities start at an “introductory fare” of $99, and flights to Cancun start at $199.

Iftikhar Ahmad, director of aviation for the airport, said the announcement brings the number of non-stop destinations out of New Orleans to 45, a new record for the airport. A total of 13 airlines now operate out of Armstrong.

Recruiting the new airline took years. Ahmed said he first approached Branson AirExpress about flying out of New Orleans in July of 2010.

“We’re continually talking to international and domestic airlines, preparing route analyses for them and showing how many customers are available,” he said. “It can take a while before they come around.”



$75M deal includes three hotels, garage

January 26th, 2015

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter, City Business

A New York investment firm recently closed on its purchase of three Hampton Inn properties in the New Orleans area and a six-story downtown garage in a deal worth more than $75 million.

Through an LLC known as BRE Nola Property Owner, The Blackstone Group bought the 288-room Hampton Inn & Suites Convention Center, 1201 Convention Center Blvd., for $24.9 million; the 100-room Hampton Inn Garden District, 3626 St. Charles Ave., for $12.9 million; the 210-room Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown French Quarter, 226 Carondelet St., for $22.5 million; and the EZ-Park parking garage at 310 Carondelet St., for $15.4 million.

The purchase closed Thursday and was filed as four separate transactions registered with Orleans Parish on Friday.

The seller in all four transactions was Highpointe Hotel Corp. LLC of Gulf Breeze, Florida. The company also owns Hampton Hotels in Elmwood and Baton Rouge. It’s not immediately known if those hotels were included as part of the deal.

For full article visit City Business



Uber legalization ordinances proposed by New Orleans City Council members

January 23rd, 2015

By Robert McClendon, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

New Orleans drivers would be able to use their vehicles as part-time taxicabs, dispatched through “ride-sharing” phone applications such as Uber and Lyft under a newly proposed ordinances before the City Council. Council members Susan Guidry and Jared Brossett have each sponsored measures that would let “transportation network companies” that follow certain rules hire drivers who use their personal vehicles.

Guidry and Brossett said that the City Council has been discussing ride-sharing since last summer, when it legalized app-based transportation for hire, and time has come to act.

“The for-hire transportation industry is changing. In many ways it is changing for the better,” Brossett said. “New technology and new ways of of operating are providing new options for citizens.”

Tom Hayes, general manager for Uber New Orleans, called the ordinance “a step in the right direction by introducing regulations that support ride sharing in New Orleans. We look forward to working together to move sensible legislation across the finish line and provide New Orleanians with the opportunity and choice they deserve.” Hayes did not comment on the substance of the ordinance or its provisions, which were only recently made public.

Ride-sharing has sparked controversy in cities around the globe, as critics raise concerns about safety for riders and fairness to established taxicab companies and drivers, which tend to operate under strict regulations and are often subject to extreme barriers to entry. In New York, the city issued so few taxi medallions, which give cabbies the right to operate, that a pair of them sold for $1 million each in 2011. As Uber established itself in the car-for-hire market, the price of medallions plummeted.

Uber in particular has been called out for its aggressive business practices and the sometimes disdainful comments of its executives.

Those issues and more have been debated at length in public hearings before the City Council.

Guidry said in a statement that it’s time to act.

“This is an issue we must deal with, and my goal is to ensure that we adopt clear and common-sense policies,” Guidry said. “My ordinance seeks to embrace this new technology and ensure public safety and consumer protection.”

The measures on offer from Guidry and Brossett include some broadly similar regulations. Both would require companies to:

  • Obtain permits and pay an annual fee.
  • Conduct criminal background checks on drivers in its network and keep a list of them on file.
  • Perform vehicle inspections on the cars used by its drivers.
  • Place logos on cars while they are in service.
  • Have commercial liability insurance.

They differ when it comes to details, however. Guidry’s ordinance would set the fee for a license at $100,000, while Brossett’s sets it at $75,000.

They would also handle the insurance requirement differently. While both demand the companies have commercial liability insurance on vehicles when they are in service, Guidry’s ordinance expressly declares any personal insurance carried by the driver to be inapplicable for accidents that occur when the driver is working for hire.  Either the driver or the company must have commercial insurance specifically written to cover drivers working for companies like Uber or Lyft.

Brossett’s would require the companies to have the same kind of insurance as those of a traditional cab company.

They also handle “surge” pricing differently. Uber’s signature pricing system, surge pricing automatically raises fares during times of peak demand.

Uber has taken heat for its pricing practices in the past, especially during disasters or other emergencies. When prices spiked ahead of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on the East Coast, critics accused the company of price gouging.

In the ensuing public relations debacle, Uber agreed to cap its surge pricing during emergencies.

In Sydney, Australia, no such cap existed in December when a gunman took hostages at a cafe in the heart of the city. Prices spiked, prompting another backlash that forced the company to issue refunds.

Such responsive pricing schemes would be prohibited during emergencies, under Guidry’s ordinance. Brossett caps rates in general, whether or not there is an emergency. Drivers could charge no more than at 1.5 times the average rates charged during the preceding three months.

Now that the ordinances have been formally introduced, they are likely to head to the transportation committee for debate and amendments.

“We’ll just look at them and take the best ideas from both of them,” said Brossett. “We are working toward the same thing.”

The City Council previously opened the door to Uber-Black, the company’s up-market offering. But ride sharing, in which people use their own cars as transportation for hire, remained illegal.

Jefferson Parish also is considering allowing ride sharing services.



Warehouse District hotel gains design approval

January 23rd, 2015

By Greg LaRose, Editor, City Business

Plans to build a new hotel on a Warehouse District parking lot continue to move forward as the Historic District Landmarks Commission granted design approval for the project.

During a meeting Wednesday, the commission also approved demolition of a small building remnant to make way for the 108,000-square-foot development.

Filmore Hospitality wants to build a seven-story, 162-room Cambria Suites hotel on an L-shaped surface parking lot at 632 Tchoupitoulas St. The $19 million hotel would occupy a 65-space parking lot that Filmore purchased in July from local hotelier Warren Reuther for $4.3 million, according to Orleans Parish Assessor’s records. Reuther, who has backed other hotel projects, is not involved in the development.

Filmore Hospitality is based in California and Ohio.

The hotel, which was designed by Holly and Smith Architects, would include a full service restaurant and meeting space on the ground floor and six additional floors each with 27 guestrooms.

For full story visit City Business



Family sells third CBD hotel within a year

January 21st, 2015

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter, City Business

The steady pace of hotel transactions in the New Orleans area continues into 2015 as another Central Business District property has changed hands.

A Connecticut hotel development firm made its first acquisition in the New Orleans market with the purchase of the 103-room Comfort Inn at 346 Baronne St. for $9 million. The transaction closed Jan. 15, according to Orleans Parish Conveyance records.

The buyer is listed as New Orleans Hotel Equity, which is linked to New Castle Hotels and Resorts of Shelton, Connecticut.

According to a news release, New Castle is planning a $10 million renovation and rebranding of the hotel that is expected to be complete by spring 2016.

For full article visit City Business



State police plan deployment of 150 for New Orleans’ Mardi Gras

January 21st, 2015

By Jonathan Bullington, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

A deployment of 150 Louisiana State Police troopers and Department of Public Safety officers will descend on the New Orleans area to assist the city’s police force during Mardi Gras, authorities announced Wednesday (Jan. 21).

LSP Superintendent Col Mike Edmonson and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison are scheduled to meet next week to finalize plans for the deployment. But authorities said the LSP contingent would likely include uniformed officers in the French Quarter and CBD, as well as increased traffic patrols and plain-clothed officers focused on weapons, drugs and human trafficking offenses.

“While we have provided carnival support for more than three-and-a-half decades, our commitment and assistance to the police department goes back even further,” Edmonson said in a release. “Lest we forget, troopers have a presence in the city each and every day, and my command officers are continually engaged in communications and complimentary law enforcement operations throughout the year.”

Calls from Mayor Mitch Landrieu for a permanent deployment of troopers in New Orleans have been met with a consistent reply from Edmonson, and his comments in announcing the state police Mardi Gras deployment continued that refrain.

“I wish we could do more. However, we have responsibilities to communities large and small across the state that also celebrate Mardi Gras,” Edmonson said in the release. “Indeed none of our support would be possible without the help we receive from the state’s 64 sheriffs and over 330 police chiefs.

“I have to acknowledge that it would simply not be possible to take officers from the various troops around the state if we could not rely on local agencies to supplement our calls for service. And for that I am grateful.”



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