November 10 2014 | Latest NewsBy Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
A Chicago real estate investment firm has purchased the storied Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, once one of the top destinations for the rich and famous enjoying extended stays in the city. The new owner, AJ Capital Partners, plans to renovate the hotel's 106 rooms and reopen it as a full-service property with the help of a group of local investors.
AJ Capital Partners, which announced the sale on Monday (Nov. 10), did not disclose the purchase price. IberiaBank will provide financing for the $10 million renovation.
Local backers involved in the project include Cooper Manning, the eldest son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning and a partner at Howard Weil, a New Orleans energy investment firm.
E. Lysle Aschaffenburg built the Pontchartrain Hotel at 2031 St. Charles Ave. in 1927 as an apartment hotel. The family, which owned the property until 1987, started to convert the property to a conventional hotel in 1941. Guests included Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and President Gerald Ford.
The hotel remained home for long-term residents well into the 1990s.
Hotel management made it a full-service hotel in 2013, including re-opening The Bayou Bar on the hotel's first floor to the public.
AJ Capital Partners CEO Ben Weprin said Manning, a close friend, urged him to pursue The Pontchartrain Hotel after visiting another one of the firm's recently restored historic hotel properties in Chicago.
Manning recalled attending holiday dinners with his family at the hotel's Caribbean Room, once one of the city's well-known dining rooms.
"I went and stayed with Cooper, saw the hotel and within 60 seconds I was like 'This is perfect,'" Weprin said. "You can't make up that type of history. The good will associated with this hotel is tremendous. That's really hard to find in our business."
Weprin said his firm wants to bring the Pontchartrain's old world charm back to life, while updating its amenities for guests.
The goal is a sort of "residential hotel" that caters to guests interested in exploring New Orleans off the beaten path, he said.
"We plan to protect its tradition, heritage and soul and are excited to reintroduce The Pontchartrain," Weprin said.
The hotel will continue current operations until May 2015, when it will close for renovations. It will re-open in January 2016.
In addition to upgrading rooms, the restoration will include remodel and reopening of The Bayou Bar, the Caribbean Room and The Silver Whistle, a coffee shop on the ground floor of the building.
AJ Capital Partners has completed hotel projects across the country, including in Chicago, Napa Valley, Calif. and Miami.