A high-rise hotel near the foot of Canal Street is changing hands again, at a time when the nearby riverfront appears primed for a spate of activity.
More than three decades after it was built, the Westin New Orleans Canal Place Hotel has been purchased by a group led by the Berger Co., in partnership with Cerberus Real Estate Capital Management, a New York-based investment firm.
The deal, which closed Thursday, comes less than two years after the New Orleans-based Berger Co. and Ogden Development sold the Shops at Canal Place, an adjacent, high-end shopping and entertainment center housed in the 32-story Canal Place complex in the 300 block of Canal Street.
The 437-room, 29-story Westin hotel has changed hands several times since it was built in 1984, but this is the first transaction that's left it under local ownership, according to Ben Tiller, a principal at the Berger firm.
The new owners plan "an extensive renovation" of the hotel, Tiller said, including revamping the guest rooms and public spaces such as the 11th-floor lobby, which offers panoramic views of the Mississippi River and French Quarter. A new food and beverage component is also in the works.
Tiller declined to disclose the price tag for the renovations, which are expected to take two years and occur while the hotel remains open.
After owning and managing the Shops at Canal Place for 16 years, Berger Co. founder and chairman Darryl Berger had long had his eye on the possibility of acquiring the Westin before a deal appeared possible in the spring.
"We've had an interest in the riverfront of New Orleans for the last 45 years," Tiller said.
The Canal Place complex was originally developed by New Orleans businessman Joseph Canizaro in 1979.
The hotel features a 30,000-square-foot ballroom and other function spaces.
It benefits from being in a central spot that’s well-placed to draw tourists: close to the riverfront, on the edge of the French Quarter and across Canal Street from Harrah’s New Orleans Casino.
The hotel is being purchased from the Blackstone Group, a New York-based investment firm. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
In addition to the Westin, the Berger Co. owns other nearby hotels, including the Windsor Court, the Omni Royal Orleans and the Omni Riverfront.
For the Berger firm, the Westin is a long-term bet on the riverfront's future development.
Two blocks away, after being stalled for more than two years by litigation, work is underway to transform the former World Trade Center building into a Four Seasons Hotel and condominiums, a potentially $400 million project that's slated to bring one of the world's most prestigious hotel brands to the city.
Additionally, Berger has been involved in talks to build a potentially $1.5 billion development at the upriver end of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which could include a 1,000-room hotel as well as residences, restaurants and a performance venue.
And farther downriver, New Orleans officials are making plans to open up to the public the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves, the last wharves between the Central Business District and Bywater still in commercial use.
That deal, which would create uninterrupted public access to a three-mile stretch of riverfront in the heart of the city, also had Berger's fingerprints on it: He sits on the Port of New Orleans board, which negotiated the wharves' transfer to the city.
The Westin "will only benefit over time from this continued focus on the riverfront and the use by the public of the riverfront," Tiller said.
The Canal Place hotel first opened under Britain's Trusthouse Forte hotel chain and was converted to a Westin in the late 1980s. It was subsequently purchased by the Wyndham Hotel Group in 2000 and spent six years as a Wyndham. It returned to the Westin flag in 2007.
Looking ahead, the hotel will be run under a long-term deal with Westin, which is owned by Marriott, the world's largest hotel company.
The renovated Westin Canal Place Hotel will be operated by HEI Hotels & Resorts, a Connecticut-based national hotel management firm that operates more than 70 properties.
Last year, the Berger Company and Ogden Development sold the 260,000-square-foot Shops at Canal Place to O'Connor Capital Partners, a New York-based real estate investment, management and development firm. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The retail center occupies three levels in the Canal Place complex. Anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, it features other high-end retailers like Tiffany’s and Armani Collezioni, as well as national retailers like Brooks Brothers and J. Crew.
The sale also included the shopping center’s nine-screen cinema, the Theatres at Canal Place.