Boutique hotel developer Robert Thompson and a company backed by Saints great Drew Brees have bought the Whitney Hotel on Poydras Street, with plans to give it a new name and overhaul the interior of the building over the next year.
The historic seven-story building was built in 1910 and was originally the headquarters of the Metropolitan Bank, then later a Whitney Bank branch. In 2015, the hotel then called the Whitney Wyndham was bought by developer Joe Jaeger, who had acquired the property from Paul Flower for $10.4 million.
The hotel has been shuttered since the pandemic and Jaeger, owner of the largest group of hotels in New Orleans, said last year that it was one of the hotels he planned to sell as he rearranged his hotel holdings.
The new owners bought the hotel for $16.9 million and plan to completely renovate the interior with the aim of reopening it under a new name in time for Mardi Gras 2023, according to Thompson.
“This hotel to my mind and to a lot of people I’ve spoken to in New Orleans is in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city,” Thompson said. “It was developed (when it was first converted) to service business travelers, which I don’t think was best suited for this particular historic property.”
Thompson’s firm Angevin & Co. last year bought The Frenchmen Hotel on the bustling Esplanade Avenue end of Frenchmen Street in the Marigny with a similar ambition to elevate its image by redesigning its bars and adding live entertainment.
That hotel is scheduled to reopen this month after some delays caused by Hurricane Ida.
Thompson, a Mississippi native, started his business life as a restauranteur in the Denver area and until late 2019 was the CEO of the bowling-focused entertainment chain Punch Bowl Social. After selling his stake, he moved with his family to New Orleans for a lifestyle change and with the aim of building a boutique hotels business in the city.
For the Whitney project, he is partnering with GBX Group, a Cleveland, Ohio-based real estate firm in which Brees is a partner. GBX specializes in the conversion and restoration of historic properties. Another of their New Orleans projects is developing the Karnofsky building and other parts of the 400 block of South Rampart Street, which were severely damaged by Ida in September.
As part of the Whitney Hotel deal, the new owners have donated 2,500 square feet of undeveloped adjacent land to the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, and have undertaken to preserve the building’s façade and other historic features, like the ornate bank vault doors that now lead into meeting rooms.
Changes to the interior, however, will be extensive. Thompson said the concept of the hotel will change radically, reflecting more the type of vogueish boutique hotels that have been attracting leisure travelers to the Central Business District, including the Virgin Hotel on the riverside corner of Baronne and Lafayette streets, which opened last August, and the Maison de la Luz on Carondelet Street.
Thompson said that he and his Denver-based design team, FAM Design, have come up with a fictional “muse” to guide the hotel’s name change and design. This still-to-be-named leannán sídhe is a young Irish woman who came to New Orleans, started her own flower shop, and ran a speakeasy by night, he said.
Thus, the hotel will feature a flower shop on the ground floor lobby open to the general public and there will be fresh flower arrangements at the newly-renovated restaurant that guests can take with them.
That restaurant concept will be “vegetable forward” (though not vegetarian) “polished, casual, and Southern,” Thompson said. There will also be a “moody craft cocktail bar.”
“Robert is looking at both The Whitney and the city with fresh eyes, and the ideas he’s bringing to the forefront will have a positive and lasting impact on the hospitality and tourism industry in New Orleans,” said Jaeger in a prepared statement announcing the sale.
Thompson said he expects to complete the purchase of more hospitality properties in the next few months.
This article was corrected to show it was an existing hotel when acquired in 2015, not converted thereafter.