Renovation Report: Former music instrument supplier-turned-hotel gets makeover

Posted on: January 27 2016

By: CityBusiness staff reports

Project: Renovation of the Interstate Electric Company Building into a Fairfield Inn & Suites

Address: 346 Baronne St., New Orleans

Architect: Campo Architects

Contractor: Donahue Favret Contractors, Inc.

Space: 60,000 square feet

Renovation cost: $6.5 million

Construction start: October 2015

Completion date: June

Built in 1904, the seven-story Interstate Electric Company Building in the Central Business District is composed of a heavy timber structure with a masonry exterior. The building played a noteworthy part in the early 20th century, originally built to construct, sell and store automotive equipment, electrical supplies, and lighting fixtures.

It was later renovated in 1926 to incorporate commercial tenants, including Collins Piano Co, which supplied handcrafted Mason & Hamlin Pianos and Martin Instruments to the early 20th century musicians of New Orleans.

In 1994, the building was converted to a Comfort Inn and Suites Hotel. At that point, window units were added to cool the entire building, which destroyed the original fabric of the structure, according to Kerry Soniat of Campo Architects.

The result is “a ton of holes” over the existing façade, she said. The team is working on updating the mechanical system in a more efficient way so that the building is returned to its truer exterior state.

Its large wooden columns and beams add a great deal of volume, with some of the upper floors at 12 and 13-feet tall.

The initial hotel conversion covered it with tile, and architects are working to pull that out so that the structure of the building is exposed and the guest rooms are given the feeling of a grander space.

First-floor renovations will include an open concept lobby, business center, lounge and bar area that will offer smaller plates as well as cocktails.

Renovations on floors two through seven will include 103 guest rooms and a new fitness center.

The design team coordinated with Louisiana’s State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service to conserve the nationally registered building’s historic elements. The exterior façade will be fully restored to its original 1904 concept and repainted with colors more appropriate to the building’s historic character. A new contemporary steel and glass canopy will be added above the entrance.

Historic tax credits are anticipated to help with the $6.5 million cost of renovating the Classical-style building as well as a historic wooden staircase inside that will be restored. The hotel’s new owners, Connecticut-based New Castle Hotels, have a few other historic properties around the country.

Campo Architects recently completed a renovation of the AC Hotel New Orleans, which opened in late 2014 at the site of the former Cotton Exchange Hotel in the CBD.

“Each hotel has a unique challenge and problem to work through,” she said. “Just working with historic buildings in general, no two are the same.”