Spending Money to Make Money
Local hotels bet big on renovations to attract business
With more than 37,000 guestrooms in New Orleans – ranging from corporate towers to boutique-style hotels – visitors have plenty of options to choose from. But while choice is great for travelers, it also means there is plenty of competition, and constant pressure for local hotels to look and perform at their best.
As such, renovations are commonplace – from knocking down walls to creating larger lobby areas, to redesigning guestrooms, and in some cases, gutting out and repurposing areas.
NOLA Hotel Group, the InterContinental New Orleans and the Hyatt French Quarter have all recently undergone major renovations – ultimately changing guests’ experiences from the instant they step into the foyer of these hotels.
NOLA HOTEL GROUP
Composed of four uniquely different boutique-style hotels; NOLA Hotel Group formed three years ago when 12 lawyers from One Shell Square – with no previous experience in the hotel industry – were approached about investing in the Blake Hotel, at 500 St. Charles Ave. Since stepping into the industry, the group has continued to expand their portfolio, with a purpose.
“We are dedicated to rebuilding boutique,” says Andy Le Bouef, area director of sales and marketing for NOLA Hotel Group. “What we do is take these smaller historic hotels that have become tired and worn out and we bring them back to their former glory.”
After acquiring the former Parc St. Charles Hotel in August 2011, the NOLA Hotel Group gave it a $4.3 million makeover and renamed it the Blake. Completed toward the end of 2013, the contemporary, 11-story hotel now boasts 122 guestrooms, a lobby area, “Café at the Square” restaurant and 1,275 square feet of meeting space.
The amenities and location of the hotel have traditionally appealed to corporate travelers and travel groups, and although these markets remain a core focus, the Blake Hotel is honing in on the smaller meeting sector.
“The return on investment has been 100 percent,” Le Bouef says. “When we acquired the hotel they really weren’t producing anything. Now the Blake and the St. James are our two most producing properties.”
The St. James Hotel, at 330 Magazine St., was the second hotel to join NOLA Hotel Group’s portfolio in July 2012. The building has a long history in the Caribbean sugar and coffee trade, a fact to which the new renovations pay homage.
To date, approximately $2.7 million has been spent on rejuvenating the entire property, enlarging the intimate lobby area to a grander space, and remodeling its 86 high-end French Quarter-style guestrooms and boardroom so as to attract the small meeting market. Renovations are expected to be completed by this spring.
“The Blake and St. James Hotel get a mix of all markets because of their locations,” Le Bouef says. “We have a good mix of leisure and corporate travelers, and at the St. James we get a ton of weddings because it is located right next door to the Board of Trade.”
In the depths of the French Quarter lies one of the two newest properties acquired by NOLA Hotel Group. The Hotel St. Pierre, located at 911 Burgundy St., is an intimate boutique hotel purchased in January 2013, with 11 buildings – including the former New Orleans Jazz Museum – 76 guestrooms, six courtyards and two pools.
“The property is unique as it is not your typical hotel,” Le Bouef says. “It is French Quarter style, complete with the carriage houses, and we also have cottages across the street.”
Le Bouef explains that renovations, which to date have cost approximately $2.3 million, are expected to wrap up by this summer.
“The entire lobby is brand new from the studs,” he says. “They got rid of rooms to expand the lobby, but we made up those rooms elsewhere. All the guestrooms have been renovated as well. They are very spacious – some have 15-foot ceilings, most have exposed features – every single room is different.”
Although the Hotel St. Pierre is a popular honeymoon destination for travelers from the United Kingdom and Europe, the owners are hoping to attract wedding functions as well.
“We do wedding groups where we house them for the weekend, Le Bouef says. “We just don’t do the functions, which is one of the reasons for these renovations.”
The fourth hotel in the portfolio, the Andrew Jackson Hotel, located at 919 Royal St., is a bed-and-breakfast with 21 rooms. A former all-boys school, the remodeling of this townhouse-style property is scheduled to begin this summer.
“We are dedicated to rebuilding boutique. What we do is take these smaller historic hotels that have become tired and worn out and we bring them back to their former glory.”
-Andy Le Bouef, area director of sales and marketing for NOLA Hotel Group
Photo courtesy of InterContinental New Orleans
INTERCONTINENTAL NEW ORLEANS
In January 2015, the InterContinental New Orleans completed a total renovation. The transformation of the public areas and refurbished guestrooms came with a price tag of $26 million.
“Dimension Development purchased InterContinental in January 2013, so from the moment we got here, we started making plans for renovations,” says John Romano, general manager of the InterContinental New Orleans. “Originally we were going to just do guestrooms and suites, but then it expanded, and we decided to get rid of the 1980s look of the escalator.”
Romano says the hotel also changed the “sense of arrival,” which meant moving everything from the second floor – the lobby, restaurant and bar space – down to the first floor. “When you walked into the hotel, beyond the bellman it was confusion,” he says. “You didn’t know whether it was a business office or a hotel.”
Now the elegant hometown feel of the foyer leads into the newly opened restaurant and bar, Trenasse, which features the work of signature chef Jim Richard from “Stinky’s Fish Camp” in Florida. Richard cooks up fresh Gulf seafood, alligator, trout and steak in what Romano dubs “rustic Louisiana fare.” In addition, local favorite, Pete’s Pub, has been reincarnated into a breakfast room and casual dining and bar space.
Appealing to its corporate and group market, the hotel’s second floor now boasts 31,000 square feet of meeting space. Nikki Jackson, SMERF (social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal) sales manager for InterContinental New Orleans, assures that although the hotel has expanded its meeting space, the grand staircase that flows down to the second floor – a popular feature for weddings – will remain.
“We used to have meeting space that we leased in the Pan-American Building,” Jackson says. “Now we have expanded in our own building so that we have enough room for a breakout meeting space.”
The InterContinental’s 484 guestrooms, including 29 suites, also received a complete makeover. The new versions incorporate a crisp, clean New Orleans style that features Mardi Gras artwork, plus a one-of-a-kind “power tower” that enables guests to plug all their electronics into one central spot.
Because renovations were in full swing for more than a year, the InterContinental had between 50 to 200 rooms out of use at any one time from December 2013 to November 2014. The hotel tried to focus on group sales instead of corporate clients to make up for the loss.
“The SMERF market proved to be an essential piece of our strategy in 2014,” Romano says. “It is very difficult to have a business meeting in a hotel that has construction going on above it.”
HYATT FRENCH QUARTER
Housed in one of New Orleans’ iconic historical buildings, the Hyatt French Quarter, located at 800 Iberville St., underwent a $20 million renovation in 2012.
Originally the 1849 D.H. Holmes department store, says Gina Chimeno, area director of sales and marketing for Hyatt French Quarter, the hotel wanted to honor the city of New Orleans by keeping the historic exterior of the building.
“This building was already a hotel, and it had so much history for New Orleans,” Chimeno says. “The D.H. Holmes clock was a symbol for local life – people would meet underneath that clock. We still have original display windows and marble flooring in some areas.”
Since the Hyatt took ownership, they have opened up the foyer, thus creating a more spacious, modern chic look.
“It was just so outdated, it wasn’t keeping time with what was going on,” says Chimeno. “Now it is a historical building with a new feel. It was a complete flip over from the prior look.”
Renovations expanded throughout multiple buildings, encompassing the lobby, 254 guestrooms, a restaurant and bar, courtyard and 10,660 square feet of meeting space.
The Hyatt French Quarter has been steering toward group meetings and events – which they have seen improve since the renovations.
“A major part of the business in New Orleans is the group meeting or association business,” Chimeno says. “This hotel was definitely lacking in that area and had potential to do much more.”
Room nights in the group segment have increased by 35 percent since the 2012 renovations.
The lobby of the new Hyatt French Quarter – renovated in 2012 for $20 million.
Photo courtesy of Hyatt French Quarter
MONEY WELL SPENT
In order to maintain a market share of the reportedly 9.28 million visitors to the city in 2013, local hotels need to stay at the forefront of their industry – not only to distinguish themselves, but to ensure they play their part in keeping New Orleans a top travel destination.