A proposed Virgin Hotel downtown, a new construction project that survived a city zoning fight over high-rise development around the Warehouse District 1 1/2 years ago, is now set to begin construction in April, developers said Tuesday (Jan. 23).
The Virgin brand is part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group conglomerate, and city leaders have hoped the company will bring a Virgin Atlantic airline flight to Louis Armstrong International Airport next.
Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital is developing the Baronne Street hotel, along with a Dallas location of the brand set to open in 2018. The company declined to release the cost of the New Orleans project.
Virgin currently has a hotel in Chicago with plans to also open hotels in Palms Springs, Silicon Valley, Nashville and New York in 2019.
"New Orleans is an incredibly special city and one Virgin Hotels has had an eye on from the beginning," Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal said in the release. "We're excited to bring the Virgin experience to the Big Easy because it's a perfect fit in terms of our values and our emphasis on creating unique and immersive experiences for our guests."
The City Council in 2015 agreed to allow the developer to build up to 148 feet tall, over the zoned limit of 125 feet and 10 stories. The deal was brokered by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who said at the time that the project "sets the tone that we are moving in the right direction" and shows the city is "attracting flags that have not existed in the city of New Orleans and our hospitality landscape."
The council cleared the way for the hotel despite the City Planning Commission's recommendation that the height waiver be denied. Councilwoman Stacy Head was the only council person to stick with that recommendation and vote against the waiver.
The property is located a block off high-rise-lined Poydras Street, on the Warehouse District side and near historic Lafayette Square. The parking lot was once zoned for unlimited height -- but that was taken down to 125 feet as part of a height study led by a group of residents and developers concerned about preserving the historic feel of the Warehouse and Lafayette Square neighborhoods.
Developers have said the top penthouse floor will be set back, making the building appear shorter.
Gatehouse Capital is working with New Orleans firms Broadmoor Construction and Mathes Brierre Architects.