A Central Business District building that once was a pivotal part of the worldwide cotton trade has been reborn as a hip hotel with its eye set on attracting a new generation of occupants.
The New Orleans Cotton Exchange building at 221 Carondelet St. has reopened as the AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon, a hotel that is part of the AC Hotels by Marriott brand. The brand includes about 75 hotels throughout Europe.
The New Orleans property is the first AC Hotel in the United States and will usher in a wave of stateside expansion for the brand.
Texas-based hotel developer NewcrestImage purchased the then-Cotton Exchange Hotel in a foreclosure auction in June 2013 for $17.8 million. The firm, which owns and operates about a dozen hotel properties, invested a further $18 million in the building’s renovation, NewcrestImage CEO Mehul “Mike” Patel said.
The hotel remained open during renovations and relaunched as an AC Hotel in mid-November. It employs 70 people, Patel said.
The AC Hotel chain is a joint venture between Spanish hotelier Antonio Catalan, who launched the company in 1998, and Marriott International, which added the brand to its portfolio in 2011. The company operates in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France.
The New Orleans hotel will be joined later this year and next year by locations in Kansas City, Missouri, Miami, Chicago and Washington, D.C. More than 50 AC hotels are in some stage of development across the country, said Toni Stoeckl, vice president of lifestyle brands for Marriott International.
The steel-framed stone building formerly was the headquarters of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange, a primary market for the global trade in cotton. The exchange operated in New Orleans from 1871 to 1964. At one time, about one-third of the nation’s cotton production traveled through New Orleans.
The building was named a National Historic Landmark in 1977. It also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The remodeled property includes some nods to its past, including the building’s original vault and, in some areas, marble walls and terrazzo floors. But for the most part, it has a minimalist design, in keeping with its European inspiration.
The AC hotels are part of a category of hotel properties called “lifestyle” brands, a term used to describe a niche that seeks to offer visitors some special sort of experience. The category also includes Hotel RL by Red Lion, Hilton’s Canopy line and Vib from Best Western.
The AC Hotel New Orleans Bourbon is aimed at the “next generation of travelers,” including Generation Yers and millennials, who are “very selective in how they spend their money,” Stoeckl said.
The hotel’s rooms feature hardwood floors instead of carpet. Both sides of the beds are equipped with spaces for plugs and USB cords. Instead of vending machines in the halls, there are “hydration stations” where guests can fill carafes with water and ice.
There is no business center with printers and computers. It has been replaced by a “media salon” featuring slick tables and spaces to dock laptop computers.
“They have higher expectations from a design standpoint and a food and beverage standpoint than any other generation has in the past,” Stoeckl said of the hotel’s intended guests. “We saw a great opportunity there with consumers wanting a little bit more, wanting something that personally and emotionally resonates with them when they travel.”
The local hotel’s launch comes at a time when the hotel industry overall is growing and expanding. The greatest growth, in terms of the key category of revenue earned per room, has been among hotels that, like AC, fall in the “upscale” category.
According to research from PKF Consulting, revenue earned by that segment of the lodging industry is expected to have grown by 8.9 percent in 2014 and is forecast to climb another 8.1 percent in 2015. That compares with 7 percent, 7.2 percent, 6.1 percent, 5.5 percent and 7.4 percent forecasted growth in 2015 for the luxury, upper-luxury, upper-midscale, midscale and economy hotels, respectively.