A five-story hotel with a ground-floor restaurant and rooftop bar is in the works for the former site of the Trolley Stop on St. Charles Avenue.
The owner and developer is Verdad Real Estate & Construction, the firm behind the redevelopment of the Magazine Street building that once housed Harry’s Ace Hardware.
Verdad has hired local cocktail virtuoso Neal Bodenheimer of Cure, Vals and Cane & Table to oversee the restaurant and bar operations. LightHouse, a hotel management firm based in New York, will operate the hotel. Local architecture firm EskewDumezRipple is designing the project.
The old Trolley Stop served 24-hour eggs, pancakes, gumbo and other diner fare at the intersection of St. Charles and St. Andrew from 1995 until it closed after Hurricane Ida in 2021. The site, a former gas station, was razed in March of this year.
The new hotel will have 22 suites, for a total of 70 guest rooms. Plans for the rooftop — including a pool and multi-purpose room as well as a bar — and for guest parking brought the developers before the Board of Zoning Adjustments for height and setback variances. Board members, going against BZA staff recommendations, approved the variances.
Verdad, a Texas-based firm with a New Orleans office, specializes in self-storage facilities, single-tenant retail buildings and multi-family housing, according to the firm’s website. Verdad principal and co-owner Joe Mann Jr., an Uptown resident, spearheaded the project.
“While most of our projects are scattered around the country, selfishly, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to develop and invest locally,” Mann told the Board of Zoning Adjustments. “I have long felt that the lower St. Charles Avenue corridor could be so much more. I drive it every day and know that a project like ours will be a catalyst for additional investment.”
Neighboring property and business owners agreed. Among those lining up to show their support were Julie Simpson and Banks McClintock, a husband-and-wife team of renovators who own property throughout the Lower Garden District.
“Our part of St. Charles Avenue is just a little bit blighted,” Simpson said. “We have our fair share of fast-food restaurants and drive-throughs and cellphone stores and empty lots and graffiti. I think this is a great project for this site — something that I’m not embarrassed to say, when riding the streetcar, that this is my neighborhood.”
Supporters also included Walt Leger III, as the president and CEO of New Orleans & Co., the city’s tourism marketing agency located a block away on St. Charles. “The rooftop is an amenity that the neighborhood can enjoy,” Leger wrote. “It is also consistent with nearby developments like the Pontchartrain Hotel which has a top floor experience.”
It’s the rooftop amenities that put the hotel over the 60-foot height limit in the city’s zoning ordinance. The area, however, has multiple buildings that are taller, including the Public Storage building that shares the block, said land-use attorney Miles Granderson of Sherman Strategies, who is representing the developer. The rooftop is set back from the St. Charles Avenue side of the building so that it is not visible from the sidewalk, he noted.
Granderson also pointed out that, although the rear area is zoned as residential, the hotel’s eight-car parking lot abuts a driveway for the storage building. The buffer requirement in the zoning ordinance, he said, is intended to protect residential, not commercial, property.
No one spoke or submitted written testimony opposing the high-end hotel and restaurant.
Before moving to allow the variances, BZA board member Todd James commented on the neighborhood support: “I do have a moment of pause when I hear no objection to this one on height, but if this was multifamily affordable housing, I’m not sure if we would get the same support from the neighboring owners.”
Board members voted unanimously to grant the variances, moving the project forward. The developer estimates that, once the permits are in place, construction will take 14 months.