Developers have resurrected a plan to convert a vacant 19th-century riverfront building into the city’s first new French Quarter hotel in decades. The move comes eight years after they shelved their original, controversial proposal.
Developers Wayne and David Ducote are expected to submit a request to the City Planning Commission this week for a conditional-use permit to redevelop 111 Iberville St., a seven-story building that was once part of a row of structures along the river housing the Louisiana Sugar Refining Co.
The developers are proposing an 80-room boutique hotel for the site, which sits inside a surface parking lot just across Iberville Street from the Westin Hotel and Canal Place shopping mall and office tower.
“This proposal will restore a great historic structure that has lain vacant for many years into a locally owned and operated boutique hotel that will bring jobs and economic development to our community,” said Mike Sherman, a spokesman for the project, which is being designed by Williams Architects. “New Orleans is on a roll, and we believe the timing is right to get this building back into commerce and generating much-needed tax revenue for our city.”
The Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates organization issued a statement that said: “The zoning limiting hotels in the French Quarter for decades has not only protected the balance and the architecture of the landmark Vieux Carre, it has been good for tourism as well. Most agree we would not have had the blossoming of the Central Business District without it.”
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 original proposal set off one of the city’s biggest land-use battles in years, primarily because it would have marked the first officially authorized breach in the moratorium on new or expanded hotels in the French Quarter that was put in place in 1969 to reduce pressures for tearing down historic buildings and to keep the district from becoming entirely devoted to tourism.
The moratorium does not apply to the block between Iberville and Canal Street, where many large hotels have been built.
Joining preservationists and French Quarter residential groups in fighting the proposal was the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association, which said it was important to preserve the residential-commercial balance in the Quarter.
Proponents said the project was a small hotel on the edge of the Quarter and was needed to revitalize a blighted riverfront area that consists mostly of parking lots.
Led by Councilman Jay Batt, the City Council approved the project, but Nagin vetoed it shortly before Hurricane Katrina hit the city, and the developers dropped the proposal the following year.
The new proposal must be reviewed by the Vieux Carre Commission, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.