Once the site of a deadly fire that resulted in building-code reform in the New Orleans area, the former Rault Center building at Gravier and South Rampart streets is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation and conversion into a hotel.
Slumber Corners NOLA LLC has launched a $10 million renovation of the 120,000-square-foot former office and apartment building.
The Connecticut-based hotel developer intends to turn the 48-year-old building into a 185-room boutique hotel that will fall under the Joie de Vivre umbrella of properties.
The hotel is scheduled to open next summer, said one of the owners, Lisa Blank.
The plans mark a new life for a building that has been gutted and vacant for years, even as many other Central Business District buildings have been revitalized.
The Rault Center was severely damaged by a fire in 1972 that killed six people. Trying to flee the flames, four women jumped to their deaths from the windows of a top-floor salon, landing on the roof of a garage eight floors below. Two men trapped in an elevator also died.
The cause of the fire remains unknown, though arson was suspected.
Natalie Vrbaskovich Smith, the last survivor of the fire, died in September. Joseph Rault, a lawyer, businessman and developer who built the Rault Center, died in February 2014 at 87.
The blaze was televised live in New Orleans and resulted in the revision of state and local fire safety laws to require sprinklers. The Rault Center, like other high-rise buildings at the time, did not have sprinklers. The fire also influenced other safety codes, including the design of exit stairs in tall buildings.
Slumber Corners bought the building in February from Johnann LLC for $5.5 million.
Joie de Vivre is a San Francisco-based hotel and restaurant management company that bills itself as providing “distinctive design, restaurants and spas and warm, genuine service.” The company operates 25 hotels, including 20 in California, two in Hawaii and one each in Florida, Arizona and Illinois.
It is not yet clear what the hotel will be called. The other Joie de Vivre properties all have different names, none named for the company itself.
The renovation is being conducted in three phases. The first phase involves selective demolition of the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems. Contractors will tear out any nonhistoric finishes and try to salvage historic elements. They also will make structural repairs to fire-damaged areas and interior stairs, and demolish a portion of the building’s 17th-floor penthouse, according to plans on file with the city.
The top floor will be rebuilt during the second phase of construction, which also will include the building of new exterior walls and windows and a new roof.
The final phase will involve installing new electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems as well as a new configuration of the interior walls to accommodate the hotel’s layout.
A staircase will connect the ground floor to the second floor of meeting rooms, project architect John T. Campo Jr., of Campo Architects, said.
The hotel also will include a restaurant, bar, fitness center and rooftop gathering space with views of downtown and the French Quarter, Campo said.
Blank said Slumber Corners purchased the property because of the local market’s strength and growth in the city.
“I especially liked what was happening in the immediate area, the history of the building and the neighbors,” Blank said. “Putting this specific building back in service is just a bonus.”
Before the fire, the Rault Center was the first mixed-use high-rise building in downtown New Orleans. It included offices and residential apartments. The top three floors were occupied by a members-only club that included a restaurant, pool, health club and spa.
The midcentury modern-style building, originally called the Continental Center Building, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January.