The National WWII Museum broke ground Friday on the eight-story, $66.5 million Higgins Hotel and Conference Center, one of the final pieces of the sprawling educational complex dedicated to America’s involvement in the Second World War.
With a target opening of 2019, the 230-room hotel will include 91 rooms with king-size beds, 103 with double queens, 25 junior suites, eight one-bedroom suites and three VIP suites.
The conference center will include more than 18,000 square feet of meeting space, including a boardroom and five meeting rooms, the largest being 6,566 square feet.
Stephen J. Watson, the museum’s president and chief executive officer, said the hotel and conference center will support the National WWII Museum financially and educationally.
In deciding how to develop the last major piece of property at the Warehouse District property, “everything kept coming back to a hotel and convention center," he said. "With the growth of our programs and visitors, it was a perfect marriage of our success … and something that’s core to the mission of the museum.”
This is particularly important, Watson said, as the museum expands its offerings of conferences, symposia, and student and teacher residential programs.
Watson said the museum, which ranked second in the world and the country in the 2017 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice awards, generates about 300,000 room nights a year at New Orleans hotels.
He said 85 percent of visitors come from out of state and half of those cite the museum as the reason or a main reason they came.
“Our visitors are coming to the city because of us,” he said.
He said the museum has had 11 straight years of growth in visitors, and multi-day visits have grown as the facility expanded from one that simply honored D-Day to a complex encompassing the entire war and its historical context.
Museum officials said the hotel’s aesthetic would evoke the war era with Art Deco design elements and period names and themes, such as a Rosie’s on the Roof bar and suites named after U.S. presidents.
The hotel and conference center is named after Andrew Higgins, the New Orleans shipbuilder who invented the Higgins Boat, which was used in amphibious landings during the war.
The museum created a subsidiary, WW2 Theater Inc., to oversee the hotel and conference center, which will be managed by Hostmark Hospitality group and will be part of Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ Curio Collection.
“It gives us the flexibility to be unique but gives us the backing of a high quality hotel brand,” Watson said.
Brandon Berger, the chairman of World War II Theatre Inc.’s board of directors, has a background in hotel development as principal and owner of the Berger Company. He said the unique design of the hotel and the meeting space in the convention center will help make the hotel a destination in its own right.
Also, “with this additional space, we can host more lectures, meet-the-author receptions, conferences and symposia right here on the museum’s main campus,” he said.
The architect on the project is Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates, and the interior is being designed by Kay Lang + Associates.
The hotel’s amenities will include a first-floor bar called Kilroy’s, a rooftop bar called Rosie’s on the Roof, and a restaurant, Cafe Normandie.
Museum officials say the project will create 150 direct jobs and 67 indirect jobs, with a $15 million annual direct economic impact.
While the museum has been heavily visited by surviving World War II veterans, Watson said that 70 percent of visitors are under 65 years old.
“We’re building a museum to honor that generation and ensure their story is told, and we’re already reaching generations beyond that and we believe that’s going to continue for many years to come,” he said.