Over the objection of some French Quarter residents, the Vieux Carre Commission’s Architectural Committee gave initial approval Tuesday to a plan to convert a vacant 19th-century riverfront building into the first new French Quarter hotel in decades.
The committee granted the proposal “conceptual approval,” the first of several steps in the process of getting permission to make changes to a building in the city’s oldest neighborhood.
Developers Wayne and David Ducote want to redevelop 111 Iberville St., a seven-story office building that was once part of a row of structures along the river housing the Louisiana Sugar Refining Co., into an 80-room boutique hotel. The property lies inside a surface parking lot just across Iberville Street from the Westin Hotel and the Canal Place shopping mall and high-rise office building.
The Ducotes proposed a similar transformation of the 1885 structure in 2004, but they dropped the plan two years later after it was vetoed by then-Mayor Ray Nagin and City Council support for the project dissipated.
That plan called for a 101-room hotel, achieved through renovating the existing building, adding an eighth floor and constructing an adjoining four-story, 26,000-square-foot structure. The current proposal does not include an additional building and would add just 4,000 square feet.
The VCC’s Architectural Committee expressed few reservations about the new project Tuesday.
But French Quarter neighborhood groups said a hotel at that location would add to congestion in the historic neighborhood. The property would be better suited as residential or office space, said Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates group.
“Adding more hotels is just something we don’t believe is in line with the best interest of this historic neighborhood,” she said, repeating her organization’s opposition from a decade ago.
Approval of the Iberville Street hotel would mark the first officially authorized breach of the city’s 1969 moratorium on new or expanded hotels in the French Quarter. It was put in place to reduce pressures for tearing down historic buildings and to keep the Vieux Carre from becoming dedicated solely to tourism.
The moratorium does not apply to the block between Iberville and Canal Street, where many large hotels have been built.
Carol Gniady said allowing the current proposal to move forward would open “a little crack in the door” that would induce other hotel developers to seek to move into the neighborhood.
“We’re just very much concerned that it will turn into a flood of new applicants for hotels in the French Quarter,” said Gniady, executive director of French Quarter Citizens Inc. “It’s just a very fragile environment, and we really don’t believe new hotels are in the best interest.”
The proposal will now go to the full Vieux Carre Commission for conceptual approval. It also must be reviewed by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.