Updated December 11, 2017 at 11:17 AM; Posted December 8, 2017 at 12:54 PM
The Higgins Hotel and Conference Center, the latest building on the National World War II Museum's downtown New Orleans campus, will open at corner of Magazine Street and Andrew Higgins Boulevard in 2019. The new eight-story, 230-room hotel will include more than 18,000 square feet of meeting space, a new full-service restaurant and a rooftop bar.
Museum leaders gathered inside the Kushner Restoration Pavilion with about 100 elected officials, civic leaders and museum patrons Friday (Dec. 8) to break ground on the $66.5 million project, which will go up on an adjacent site. Freezing rain fell as leaders debuted the project, derailing plans for a traditional first dig outside and preventing a few honored guests from arriving. Inside, however, spirits were high.
"Today we're celebrating the marriage of two of the things New Orleans does exceptionally well: the National World War II Museum and hospitality," said Brandon Berger, a local developer and board chairman of World War II Theater Inc., the nonprofit that will oversee the development.
The hotel is named after Andrew Higgins, founder of Higgins Industries, the New Orleans-based manufacturer of the landing craft that played an instrumental part in World War II. National World War II Museum CEO Stephen Watson noted the Higgins legacy is a big part of the reason the national museum is located here.
"We think it's fitting and appropriate to have this project bear his name," Watson said.
Renderings shared Friday revealed an art deco design inspired by war-era architecture. Plans call for 230 rooms on six of the building's floors, including eight one-bedroom suites and three VIP suites, and ground-floor amenities, including the Kilroy Bar and Cafe Normandie, a full-service restaurant. The conference space will be concentrated on the second floor and include a boardroom and five meeting rooms.
Once complete, the hotel will operate under the Curio Collection by Hilton, one of the hotelier's boutique brands. The property will be the first Curio Collection hotel in Louisiana.
Watson said the World War II Museum's master plan had long called for hotel and conference space, but the project was put off as other aspects of the campus took shape. He noted a conference center was originally planned for the site where the museum's Victory Theater stands today.
Watson said the hotel is a key step forward for the World War II Museum as its attendance continues to rise, with roughly 700,000 visitors to the museum in 2017 alone, most from out of state. The meeting rooms will provide much-needed space for the museums educational programs, and profits generated by the hotel will be re-invested in the museum, he said.
"Whatever we developed had to both educationally and economically support the museum," Watson said.
The Higgins Hotel will be the latest new hospitality property to spring up in the downtown area that spans the Central Business and Warehouse districts, which has seen a boom in new-build hotels and historic renovations in recent years. The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the city has added roughly 3,000 new hotel room in recent years, half of which are in the CBD and Warehouse District.
Berger, a principal at The Berger Co., a prominent local real estate development and investment firm, was confident the market is strong for another major hotel in the Warehouse District, especially one connected to a museum that hospitality sector leaders estimate drives roughly 300,000 hotel night stays each year. For Berger, the hotel's tie to the World War II Museum supports the economics of the project, but aren't its foundation.
"We had to make sure that this was a stand-alone financial success almost outside of the demand generated by the museum itself," he said.
Berger said flexible and up-to-date meeting space remains in high demand in New Orleans right now. The hotel's conference space adds another layer of viability to the project, he said.
"Because of what we're delivering with the conference center, the new meetings, the new conference, the new groups, we will pick up new business. But that really is lagniappe to the very core analysis that this is going to be a successful project in and of itself," he said.
Whitney Bank and IberiaBank are providing financing for the $66.5 million project. Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates of Coral Gables, Florida, designed the building, and Kay Lang + Associates of Los Angeles designed the interiors. Palmisano Construction, the local company that has worked on The Ace Hotel and Fulton Alley on Fulton Street, will oversee the build.
Hostmark Hospitality Group has been hired to manage day-to-day operations at the hotel.
Construction on Higgins Hotel and Conference Center is currently underway. The project is expected to be complete in 2019.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the project's interior designer. Kay Lang + Associates designed the interiors.