Faubourg Marigny residents got a first look at renderings of a four-story Hampton Inn hotel planned for Elysian Fields Avenue - the first major hotel chain to break ground in the neighborhood. But residents are asking developers to make it look less like a chain and more in step with the character of the neighborhood.
The hotel's introduction to the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA) was a relatively welcome one, compared to the heated debates in 2012 among residents, the city and developer Sean Cummings, who until recently owned the property and had plans to turn it into luxury apartments. Cummings - who bought the property for $1.1 million in 2007 - sold it to hotel developers for $3.5 million last month. Cummings abandoned plans for the Elisio Lofts after the New Orleans City Council denied a height variance that would have allowed Cummings to build up to 74 feet.
The Hampton Inn, however, is shooting for 50 feet. Its shorter height isn't the only point on which the FMIA was sold: with the group's objection to the practice of whole-home short-term rentals on websites like Airbnb, the FMIA sees a hotel in the neighborhood as a way to force those rentals out. "We'd rather have that going on - in a property that has nothing going on - than have [short-term rentals] disrupt the neighborhood," said FMIA President Allen Johnson. Now, he said, it's up to the developers (and city planners) to determine "how much they take on and do" based on the suggestions of residents.
The plans call for a two-tone maroon and yellow stucco exterior with a living wall along the first floor of the Decatur Street side, where there also will be trees lining the sidewalks. There are two planned entrances on the Decatur side for a parking lot with 60 parking spaces, and there are possible plans to add offsite parking at an additional existing lot. Hotel guests will have to pay for a valet parking service - but residents fear people staying at the hotel are more likely to park on the street for free, taking away residential parking. "They're not going to walk two or three blocks to park," said developer Amit Pate. People chimed in, "Why not? I would."
The hotel won't have banquet rooms, events areas, restaurants or retail space - the only food it will serve will come from the lobby breakfast area. There also are plans for a pool on the floor level, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Residents at the FMIA's Oct. 17 meeting at St. Paul Lutheran School suggested adding shutters and drapes, or designing the exterior to look older and similar to other buildings in the area. "Is there any way you can make the design look like the rest of the neighborhood?" one woman asked, "instead of a Hampton Inn?"
Architect Francisco Alecha said there's a "tension between making it look like the neighborhood and making it distinctly clear that it's new."
"The building should not pretend to be old," he said. "It would be deceiving."
The building also will have to be consistent with Hampton Inn branding.
Alecha said the hotel plans will likely go before the New Orleans City Planning Commission and Historic District Landmarks Commission within the next few weeks before it can break ground. The existing building will have to be demolished.