As the New Orleans tourism industry grows, the Prytania Park hotel is slated for a major, two-phase expansion into a 200-room hotel called “The Avenue Oaks Hotel” that will encompass most of a city block on St. Charles Avenue, according to plans shared with Lower Garden District neighbors on Monday night.
The first phase of the expansion will consist of a new, 48-room building on Melpomene at St. Charles Avenue, connecting to the roughly 60-room Prytania Park Hotel, said architect Wayne Troyer of Studio WTA in a presentation before the Coliseum Square Association. The second phase will be a 90-room building on the Terpsichore side of the block, Troyer said.
“New Orleans is short about 3,000 hotel rooms,” Troyer said. “This would be a nice contribution to that need.”
No buildings will have to be demolished, Troyer said, because so much of the block is already vacant land used for parking lots. The project will include a parking structure inside the block, hidden from street view, that will have enough space for the hotel and the proposed Lula distillery restaurant that is being planned to take over the current Halpern’s furniture store.
The Halpern family has already begun sharing the concept with the city’s historic-review panels and with City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, Troyer said. Her primary concern was urging the family to begin development with the corner of Melpomene and St. Charles, which he said she described as a barren eyesore in need of revitalization.
“This is something that is really going to improve this block tremendously,” Troyer said.
The entrance to the complex will actually be on Melpomene, through a carport that passes through the building to the parking structure within, Troyer said. The ground floor will largely be a reception and meeting area with 12-foot ceilings, he said, appropriate to the stature of St. Charles Avenue.
Many of the specific design decisions, such as the materials being used, are still being discussed by the architects, Troyer said. The overall style, however, will be a modern interpretation the neoclassical architecture found nearby, with a series of columns creating a porch area designed to complement the neighboring historical buildings.
Many of the neighbors concerns’ focused on what will become of the trees lining the block. Troyer said they are on public property, so the development will not disturb them and will actually encourage their maintenance.
The trees are so integral to the concept of the hotel that they are represented in its new name, hotel president Dori Halpern Schulman, assured the neighbors.
“Our plans include working around them,” Troyer said. “We see them as an asset.”
One other concern of neighbors was about the future of a building on Terpsichore not included in the redevelopment. Schulman said the family originally bought it after a number of fires in vacant buildings nearby started by vagrants inside them, and they simply wanted to preserve it. Now, Schulman said, she is in the final stages of negotiations to sell it to a member of the Coliseum Square Association who plans to restore it over the next year.
Troyer said he hopes the hotel will be open by the end of 2015 or early 2016. The proposed distillery restaurant, he noted, is still working on its federal approvals, but should be open earlier than that, possibly the summer of 2015.