Developer Mike Wampold will turn the old State Office Building in downtown Baton Rouge into a 148-room Marriott Autograph hotel.
The hotel, set to open in August 2016, will be named Watermark Baton Rouge. It will be a full-service hotel, which will include an upscale restaurant and about 2,500 square feet of meeting space.
“The historic nature of the building, with the murals and the marble, it’s a very elegant environment,” Wampold said.
Renovations to the building have started. The work is expected to cost about $25 million. Last year, the Legislature approved a bill to create a tax increment financing district, or TIF, that allows for sales tax revenues generated by the property to be used to develop the Watermark Baton Rouge.
Wampold, who bought the building at 150 Third St. in March 2014, said he planned on turning the property into a Courtyard by Marriott. However, Marriott chose to award a Courtyard franchise to Windsor Aughtry Co., which will build a 147-room hotel at the corner of Third and Florida streets. According to Wampold, Courtyard prefers new hotels, instead of renovating existing properties.
But Marriott’s full-service division contacted Wampold and offered him the Autograph franchise. For upscale brands like Autograph, Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott and Renaissance, the company prefers to reuse historic buildings.
“This was truly a stroke of luck,” Wampold said. “Watermark will set a new standard for the entire Baton Rouge hotel market, especially downtown, while being competitive in rate.”
The hotel’s name has two meanings: It refers to the transparent marks that are found on currency, harkening back to the building’s history as the home of Louisiana National Bank. It also refers to the fact that the property is near the Mississippi River, Wampold said.
The building was constructed in 1926 and was the first skyscraper in Baton Rouge. The state acquired the property in the 1960s. It had housed state higher education offices and the Louisiana Board of Regents. Gov. Bobby Jindal announced in 2013 he wanted to sell the building to help balance the budget. Wampold bought the entity that the Baton Rouge Area Foundation set up to buy the building. BRAF acquired the building at an auction from the state in early 2014 for $10.25 million.
Plans are to preserve many of the architectural and art features in the building, including the vintage murals painted by New Orleans artist Angela Gregory, the carved marble walls and the grand staircase. “They have a cool basement speakeasy with 11-foot-high ceilings,” Wampold said. “So there’s an opportunity for us to bring in entertainment or have it double as meeting space.”
Wampold is no stranger to Marriott. He converted a partially built dorm at Jimmy Swaggart Ministries into the 256-room Renaissance Baton Rouge hotel. That property was named as the best new hotel for the Marriott chain in 2012.
While Renaissance is an upscale Marriott brand, Autograph is “upscale upscale” Wampold said. There are about 50 Autograph properties in the U.S., including The Saint Hotel in New Orleans’ Central Business District, the Algonquin Hotel Times Square in New York City, Hotel ICON in Houston and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
“This is really exciting,” said Paul Arrigo, CEO of Visit Baton Rouge. “Autograph is the avant-garde Marriott brand.”
The hotel will start with room rates in the $150 to $160 a night range. In contrast, Wampold said the Renaissance started off with rates averaging $135 a night but now charge about $185 a night for a room.
“We’re going to be competitive with the Hilton (Baton Rouge Capitol Center) and the Hampton Inn rate-wise and we’ll have the very, very best product,” he said.
Watermark Baton Rouge hopes to pick up customers from two categories: executive business travelers and tourists who are in town for events downtown. “We also think we can get a lot of local people who come down for dinner or to go to a concert at the River Center and decide not to drive and to make a night of it,” Wampold said.
About 50 to 60 people are expected to work at the hotel.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate.