The 60-room 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 last week.
The first phase of the expansion will be a new 48-guest-room building on Melpomene Street at St. Charles, connecting to the Prytania Park Hotel on Prytania Street, 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 Street side of the block.
“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, he said, because so much of the block already is 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 what is now Halpern’s furniture store.
The Halpern family has 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.
At the urging of then-Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt and over the objections of preservationists, the City Council in 2006 voted 5-2 to let the Halpern family demolish the badly deteriorating late 19th-century mansion that formerly stood on the site.
“This (hotel project) is really going to improve this block tremendously,” Troyer said.
The entrance to the complex actually will be on Melpomene Street, through a carport that passes through the building to the parking structure within, Troyer said. The ground floor will be largely a reception and meeting area with 12-foot ceilings appropriate for St. Charles Avenue, he said.
Many specific design decisions, such as the materials to be used, are still being discussed, Troyer said. The overall style, however, will be a modern interpretation of the neoclassical architecture found nearby, with a series of columns creating a porch area designed to complement 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 actually will 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 the future of a building on Terpsichore Street not included in the redevelopment. Schulman said the Halpern family originally bought it after vagrants started a number of fires in nearby vacant buildings. The family simply wanted to preserve it. Now, Schulman said, she is in the final stages of negotiations to sell the building to a member of the Coliseum Square Association, who plans to restore it.
Troyer said he hopes the hotel will be open by the end of 2015 or early 2016. The proposed distillery restaurant, he noted, still is working on its approvals but should be open earlier than that, possibly next summer.