The Times-Picayune – The Hyatt Regency New Orleans, whose blown-out windows became some of the first images of Hurricane Katrina damage broadcast to television audiences around the country in 2005, will reopen to guests Oct. 19, the hotel’s general manager confirmed Tuesday.
The 32-story hotel, which served as the Katrina headquarters for Mayor Ray Nagin, the City Council and the heads of several first responder organizations, suffered substantial water damage during the storm and has remained dormant ever since. When it reopens, the property will have undergone a $275 million overhaul that includes moving the entrance to Loyola Avenue and doubling the hotel’s meeting space.
The Hyatt’s more than 1,000 guest rooms will help propel the city’s tourism industry closer to pre-Katrina levels of hotel capacity.
Redevelopment of the storm-ravaged hotel has progressed in fits and starts in the almost six years since Katrina. Strategic Hotels & Resorts, which owned the property at the time of the hurricane, performed some renovations after the storm and proposed it as the centerpiece of a jazz district. That plan, however, fell through.
The property sold for $32 million to Poydras Properties Hotel Holdings in 2007. The company received $225 million in low-cost GO-Zone bonds to rehabilitate the hotel in February 2009. The property’s owners said last year that it would open in fall 2011, but this is the first time a date has been provided.
Assuming there is a football season, the Hyatt will open just in time for the New Orleans Saints’ Oct. 23 rematch against the Indianapolis Colts.
“We’re going to open with a bang,” the hotel’s general manager Michael Smith said. “We closed with a bang, we’re going to open with one. We’re the phoenix rising from the ashes.”
Smith said the opening date will also kick off a more than yearlong period of special events in the city, including the 2012 BCS championship game, the 2012 Final Four and the 2013 Super Bowl, all of which will attract business to the hotel, he said.
The 1,193-room hotel will include 95 suites. It will also contain two restaurants, one with an as-yet-to-be-named “celebrity chef”; a 24-hour fresh market; and a Starbucks coffee shop. The revolving rooftop restaurant is being replaced with a club-level lounge that overlooks the city and a fitness center that overlooks the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena. The lounge and fitness center will not revolve.
Smith is careful not to call the Hyatt’s repairs a renovation. He said he prefers the term “redevelopment and repositioning” and said the redeveloped Hyatt will have some marked differences from the old one. For starters, the hotel has doubled its meeting space to 200,000 square feet.
“This gives us an entirely different business model,” Smith said.
This time around, Smith said, the Hyatt intends to be more self-contained, modeling itself after Gaylord Hotel sites, which offer guest rooms, meeting space and a variety of dining options all under one roof, usually on the outskirts of major cities.
The hotel will also try to attract “underserved” downtown workers and residents to its restaurants, bar and market.
“Now we have the ability to meet, feed, break out, exhibit and service all groups of all sizes,” Smith said.
The reopening of the Hyatt will put the local tourism industry closer to pre-Katrina levels of hotel capacity. The Hyatt’s reopening will bring the total number of hotel rooms in New Orleans to 36,387 rooms, about 92 percent of the city’s pre-Katrina total. Before the storm, there were 39,525 hotel rooms in New Orleans. The addition of the Hyatt will also boost the number of hotel rooms within one mile of the Convention Center to 23,000, said Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.