1031 Canal Street

Plans for a 350-room Hard Rock Hotel were unveiled Thursday for the site of the former Woolworth department store at 1031 Canal St., on the edge of the Central Business District.

Plans were unveiled Thursday for a 350-room Hard Rock Hotel at the site of the former Woolworth department store in the 1000 block of Canal Street.

The 18-story, mixed-use development, led by Florida-based Hard Rock International, marks the latest signal that the mid-Canal Street corridor is gaining commercial traction with big-name brands and retailers, largely buoyed by an interest in downtown living and as New Orleans continues to thrive as a tourist destination.

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New Orleans-based Kailas Companies has owned the property, located at Canal and North Rampart streets, since 2007.

Denise Gaines, the firm's president, said the project needs no additional city approvals to move ahead.

The hotel, which is scheduled to open in spring 2019, will also have 62 condos, including one-, two- and three-bedroom units, which will be put up for sale in the coming months.

More widely known for its restaurant chain, Hard Rock has at least 11 hotels in North America, largely in other tourism-driven markets, such as Orlando, Florida. Some of the hotels also boast casinos, such as in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Las Vegas. Beyond New Orleans, the chain has its sights on several additional expansions, including in New York City; Daytona Beach, Florida; and Hartford, Connecticut.

Long a fixture on Decatur Street, the local Hard Rock Cafe moved to a new, renovated location in the 100 block of Bourbon Street about five years ago.

“As Hard Rock continues to expand globally, our focus will be influential cities with deep musical roots,” Todd Hricko, Hard Rock Hotels' head of global hotel development, said in a statement that described New Orleans as "home to a unique melting pot of cultures."

After holding onto the property for more than a decade, Kailas officials are also bullish on that section of Canal.

Gaines called it "the most exciting site in the city" and said the surrounding area is "undergoing a real estate renaissance with significant hotel and apartment development."

The planned condos will range in size from about 650 square feet to 2,300 square feet; each will feature a balcony. Residents will have access to the hotel's amenities and to private elevators. Prices are expected to range from $600 to $800 per square foot.

The planned hotel marks the latest turn for a site that has seen a series of starts and stops in recent years. In 2014, demolition crews tore down the 1940s-era Woolworth building, which was the site of lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement in the early 1960s but had long sat vacant and blighted.

Most recently, developer Mohan Kailas sought to build a $70 million mixed-use residential and retail complex, which was slated to include 85,000 square feet for shopping. However, the project ran into several hurdles — most of them centering on criticism of its height, mass and design.

Some critics contended that the building's size and modern appearance would clash with the nearby French Quarter. Others said it would not pay enough respect to the site's ties to the civil rights movement.

The New Orleans City Council ultimately signed off on the proposed high-rise in 2011. Five years later, Kailas filed new design plans that swapped out several floors of apartments for hotel rooms but largely kept the building's size and mass intact.

Meanwhile, the surrounding area has changed in recent years, particularly as downtown living continues to draw interest among young renters and second-home buyers. Additionally, publicly and privately funded projects like the reopening of some of the nearby historic theaters have breathed new life into the area, especially in the evening hours, when it once felt like a ghost town.

Now, more than a decade after Kailas bought the building for $3.6 million after plans for another development project fell through, the city's upswing in tourism — and steady demand for new hotel rooms — could weigh in the project's favor.

"The hotel industry in New Orleans has really taken off in the last few years," said Gaines, who declined to disclose the project's price tag but said it would be higher than the earlier $70 million proposal.

In addition to roughly 400 parking spaces, the hotel will have a restaurant that's more upscale than the Hard Rock chain's namesake a few blocks away and that it's hoped will appeal in particular to theater-goers, like those going to shows at the Saenger Theatre across Rampart, as well as standard dining options.

The hotel will also have four meeting spaces and two ballrooms — totaling about 12,000 square feet of event space.

The hotel's walls will be adorned with music memorabilia, which will align with the local music scene and pay tribute to the city's own history.

Along with Hard Rock, the project's partners include Mohan Kailas; Denzel Clark, president of Metairie-based Citadel Builders; and Todd Trosclair, CEO of Metairie-based All-Star Electric and chairman of Galatoire's Restaurant. 

Harry Baker Smith is the architect.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.