Historic 7-story riverfront building considered again for hotel development

September 24 2014 | Latest News
By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

A controversial proposal to turn an historic riverfront building into the French Quarter's first new hotel since 1969 is back in new form, nearly a decade after then-Mayor Ray Nagin vetoed the original plan.

Developers Wayne and David Ducote have proposed a boutique hotel with 80 rooms at 111 Iberville St., a seven-story former sugar company building from 1885. The vacant building sits on a sea of parking lots across from the Westin hotel in Canal Place.

The hotel proposal is a slimmer version of what was once envisioned, said Mike Sherman, a spokesman for the project. "Unlike the proposal a decade ago, this focuses on adaptive reuse with the hotel rooms in the existing footprint in the building," Sherman said.

Beginning in 2004, the Ducotes' plan called for a 101-room, $20 million hotel with an expansion that would have nearly doubled the building's square footage. The City Council agreed to rezone the land to allow for a hotel as a conditional-use requiring council approval. The council later approved the conditional-use permit.

But one month before Hurricane Katrina, Nagin blocked the project in his first land-use veto. After the storm, developers briefly attempted to revive their plan but withdrew as City Council support dissolved in 2006.

Sherman said the proposal is in compliance with the city's master plan and is a better fit for the historic neighborhood at a smaller size. The height of the building would remain the same.

The hotel would be locally owned and operated in partnership with New Orleans hotelier Joe Jaeger.

The building's total square footage would expand slightly, from 37,800 square feet to 41,900 square feet with a build-out of the top floor and ground floor additions. A restaurant, pool and office would be added.

Architect John C. Williams said the proposed hotel property and the surrounding parking lots were once an industrial area known as the sugar district for processing sugar.

"At one point, this was completely filled with refineries from here to the Jax Brewery," he said.

In 1969, city leaders imposed a moratorium on new hotels in the Quarter through zoning changes, in response to fears that more lodging would degrade the Quarter's authenticity and turn it into an entirely tourist zone. But the Iberville property rezoning in 2004 broke that ban.

The Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates group, in a news release Wednesday, said limits on French Quarter hotels have protected the neighborhood while allowing for rapid growth of hotels in the nearby Central Business District. The group urged the City Planning Commission, the Vieux Carre Commission and the City Council to reject the proposal.

Meanwhile, slightly downriver from the Iberville building, the Ducotes are converting a similar stand-alone red-brick building into condominiums with ground-floor retail space.

Developing that building into residential units is one of the city's requirements for allowing the hotel.

Williams said developers will apply for the permit next week. The project needs approval from the Vieux Carre Commission, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

The hotel ban excludes the blocks between Canal and Iberville streets.