Feb 062018

The exterior of the St. Vincent’s Guest House on Magazine Street. (via Google Maps)

The creation of a new reception hall as part of the renovation of the historic St. Vincent’s Guest House in the Lower Garden District has received enthusiastic approval by the New Orleans City Council, after the developers won over skeptics in the neighborhood with a set of strict conditions as to how the facility will be used.

St. Vincent’s was originally built in 1864 as an orphanage, but converted to a hostel in the 1990s that subsequently fell into neglect and sometimes served as a “beacon of unsavory activity in the neighborhood,” new owner Zach Kupperman told the New Orleans City Council at their most recent meeting. Kupperman — whom City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell praised as “energetic” for his previous work with Dinner Lab and the Drifter Hotel on Tulane Avenue — now plans to renovate St. Vincent’s into a boutique hotel, but says that the project needs a new small reception hall on the property to function properly.

Kupperman had initially asked that the reception hall be allowed to charge admission, to have live music in the courtyard, and to extend its operating hours beyond those allowed by current city regulations. The City Planning Commission — while praising the overall project — balked at those extra requests amid some opposition from nearby neighbors in November, and sent the project to the full City Council with a recommendation for approval of the new building without the additional requests.

When the project appeared before the City Council on Jan. 25, Cantrell said the developer and neighbors had continued to meet and come up with a set of compromises that she supports.

“This old beautiful building adds a tremendous amount of character to Magazine Street,” Cantrell said.

The new conditions include:

  • Admission can only be charged for a specific set of activities, including fundraisers for nonprofits such as churches or schools, literary exhibits, fitness wellness, art exhibits, educational classes or film exhibitions,
  • Music in the courtyard may not be amplified and is only allowed until 9 p.m., and must follow the city’s noise ordinance, and
  • The facility may open at 8 a.m., but must close at midnight on weekdays and 4 a.m. following Friday and Saturday nights.

Those conditions won praise from the preservationists, neighborhood leaders, and even some individual nearby neighbors who had previously opposed them. Eliska Plunkett of the Coliseum Square Association thanked the developers for ensuring that the reception hall will remain part of the hotel.

“We feel the project will benefit and improve the Lower Garden District,” Plunkett said.

Two neighbors on Orange Street, Gay Robertson and Steve Hartnett, both asked that the loading area for the dumpster be moved onto Magazine Street instead of across from their homes. Kupperman replied that architects had already redesigned the dumpster into an enclosed building as far as possible from the Orange Street neighbors’ homes to accommodate them.

Another neighbor, Andrew Yon, said that he had initially been “leery” of the reception and concerned that the initial waivers sought by the developers would allow it to operate as a nightclub.

“We’re in agreement with compromise language,” Yon said. “At this point, we’re satisfied.”

Erin Holmes of the Preservation Resource Center praised Kupperman for his continued meetings with neighbors to reach the compromise even after the City Planning meeting in November. The project is a strong example of New Orleans’ role as a national leader in historic adaptations, Holmes said.

“We are so pleased that this beautiful historic complex will be restored,” Holmes said. “This is a great example of how the process is supposed to work.”

With that, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of the project.