By Anne Cosgrove
from the July/August 2015 issue
Located in New Orleans’ Warehouse Arts District, blocks from the French Quarter, walking distance to the Superdome, and a short stroll from the city’s Convention Center, The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery opened for business in June 2015. Located at the intersection of Tchoupitoulas and Lafayette Streets, the hotel is the latest incarnation of a building that began its life in 1854 as a warehouse serving the Port of New Orleans and has served the city as the Ambassador Hotel for the last two decades. With Provenance Hotels and GB Lodging at the helm, the property has been renovated and rebranded. The project preserved much of the building’s original character and embraces New Orleans culture, while also providing technology and other amenities expected by travelers. It’s also pet friendly.
“New Orleans is a soulful city rooted in history and we specialize in distinctively local renovations of historic properties,” says Bashar Wali, president of Provenance Hotels. “But, even more enticing than that, this is a city in the midst of an entrepreneurial renaissance. We are honored and excited to be channeling that energy into The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in an artful, considered way. From the edgy design to the playful only-in-New Orleans touches, the guest experience will emphasize the innovative spirit of this amazing destination.”
Shortly after the hotel opening, Facility Executive spoke with John Price, general manager at The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, about the renovation project and operations thus far. The focus on continuing to appreciate and offer distinctive New Orleans hospitality is apparent.
FE: Please describe the scope of the renovation. How did the owners envision the finished work and how it would impact operations and image?
Price: Like many in New Orleans, this is a very old building. Built in 1854, it first served as a warehouse serving the port and was converted to use as a hotel about 25 years ago in a style that preserved much of the warehouse character of the building but covered it up in faux antiques and florals. The goal for us as owners and operators of the property was to improve the physical space both in the guest rooms and public areas, increase the natural light in the guest rooms, and create a new restaurant—all in a style that embraced and celebrated the history and character of the building and the artistic, contemporary spirit of New Orleans, particularly the Arts District.
One of the most impactful changes we made was the construction of new light wells and the addition of windows to exterior walls to provide more natural light in the guest rooms. We also increased the guest room count from 165 to 167 and installed new FF&E [furniture, fixtures, and equipment] and OS&E [operating supplies and equipment] packages for all guest rooms. We installed new window treatments; replaced doors, frames and locksets on all guest rooms and bathrooms; installed new bathroom fixtures and finishes; and converted 75% of existing bathrooms from tubs to full showers.
We also refreshed the finish on existing wood floors; painted all wall, ceilings, and exposed piping within the guest rooms; repaired and rehabilitated HVAC systems in the rooms; replaced all electrical devices; replaced existing acoustical ceiling tiles with painted drywall ceilings; and installed new artwork in all guestrooms.
On the ground floor, the public spaces were transformed into a destination with the addition of Compére Lapin, a restaurant helmed by Chef Nina Compton. We completely redesigned the lobby, relocating the front desk, adding a “grab and go” outlet for coffee and pastries, creating an art gallery and retail space, and repositioning back of house elements to maximize revenue.
FE: Did the property remain operational throughout the renovation? How did your team handle this?
Price: The property remained operational throughout the renovation. We took guest rooms offline in sections to install the new light wells and remodel the rooms. The restaurant closed before renovation began, and the lobby was out of service while we worked on that space. During that time, a temporary lobby was constructed to accommodate check-ins and guest service.
Our strategy throughout was to focus on service. We found we could draw attention away from the construction through positive personal interactions with guests. The majority of the time, with the exception of the lack of on-site restaurant, guests were minimally impacted by the renovation process.
And it became all the more important for our front of house team to offer e a wealth of knowledge about the surrounding neighborhood and dining options. We were very focused on working with the project leads to ensure guests were placed in the renovated rooms as they returned to inventory. We also used really fantastic collateral to engage the guests in the project; we chose to view the renovation period as an opportunity to build excitement about what was to come.
FE: How do the guest rooms reflect the character of the hotel? And, what do the common spaces offer to guests and other visitors?
Price: New Orleans is a soulful city rooted in history and, even more exciting, it is a city in the midst of a renaissance. Our goal was to channel that energy into the hotel in an artful, considered way. The light, airy design allows the building’s authentic warehouse architecture to shine. In the guest rooms, white walls punctuated by pops of color on painted ceilings and pipes, original hardwood floors, wall spanning windows, wood finishes, and subdued fabrics and textiles pay homage to the hotel’s industrial past while practical amenities provide the modern necessities, such as flat screen televisions, docking stations and complimentary Wi-Fi.
We partnered with the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), Louisiana’s Arts Conservatory, to create a travel and art experience. NOCCA is a regional, pre-professional arts school founded by artists, educators, and community activists. It boasts a roster of alumni that includes Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., and Terence Blanchard.
Student painters, printmakers, photographers, designers, collage, and graphic artists from NOCCA’s upper level visual arts program were invited by to submit works to be featured in the guest rooms. Their art was reproduced and is in the hotel today. In addition, all guest rooms will feature copies of UMBRA, an annual publication created by NOCCA’s creative writing students. The lobby is also home to a street facing gallery space curated by NOCCA and featuring rotating works by its students, faculty, and alumni.
It’s interesting to watch guests come into the lobby for the first time—particularly if they were previously guests. When they enter, they are surprised and delighted by the design, the integration of old and new, and the way it creates a truly social space. After their experience in the lobby, the most remarked upon amenity we provide guests is probably that we provide one of the most luxuriously comfortable beds in the business. It seems almost cliché, but it’s a true differentiator—our guests sleep well.
FE: What technology infrastructure and amenities are offered? Did the age of the structure present installation challenges?
Price: Wireless [service] was available throughout the hotel, but during the renovation the entire infrastructure was replaced and additional access points were installed to increase signal strength and speed. The age of the building was surprisingly not as challenging as one would normally expect, because there was a large amount of old conduit exposed on the brick walls. It fit right in line with our warehouse inspired design, so we put it to use installing the new infrastructure and putting in additional conduit where needed. Rather than making installation difficult, it adds to the charm.
FE: Looking beyond the tech aspects, did the historic nature of the hotel present challenges or limitations to the project plan and implementation? Conversely, were there any highlights in this regard?
Price: The only challenge we encountered ended up being an opportunity. New Orleans is a historic city, and it looks that way because the city actively works to police and maintain the character of historic buildings. The exterior of our building falls under the purview of the Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC). We designed an exterior package that included painted and rooftop signage inspired by the way the building looked in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for the HDLC and we were required to go back the drawing board.
It gave us a bit of pause but ultimately resulted in the design and implementation of the striking illuminated blade sign that now graces the front of the building. This sign has quickly become a much photographed highlight of the hotel. We see passersby taking photos of it all day (and night) long.
The interior did not fall under any historic district restrictions but the bones of the old warehouse was integral to the design intent. We were fortunate with the original exposed bricks, wood floors, and exposed wood columns and beams. Wherever possible we chose to keep those focal points. In the cases where construction required the removal of original features like these, we looked for ways to reuse them. For example, we repurposed an old wood beam demoed during construction as the new bar top in the restaurant; the wood paneled wall behind the bar in restaurant is made of boards discovered when removing ceilings. We also found an old sign, which was recreated in the hotel lobby.
FE: What is on the horizon for The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery as you move forward?
Price: We are continuing to forge relationships with makers in the community. New Orleans is an incredibly creative, vibrant, entrepreneurial place. There are really smart, fun people here who are doing creative interesting things—from brewing beer to distilling sprits to making art, clothing, and other items. We are looking forward to continuing to explore unusual, innovative ways to bring these “only in New Orleans” products and personalities into the hotel to provide our guests an unconventional yet quintessential New Orleans experience.
This article is based on project literature and an interview with Price (www.provenancehotels.com).
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