Planning Commission approves request for downtown hotel, West Elm furniture store
By Jaquetta White
New Orleans bureau
July 11, 2013
A 31-story downtown office building left vacant for nearly eight years could soon see new life as a boutique hotel and apartments.
Plans to convert the tower, at 225 Baronne St., received unanimous approval Tuesday from the New Orleans City Planning Commission. Developers intend to turn the 550,000-square-foot tower into 192 residential apartments, a 188-room Aloft Hotel and a 356-space public parking garage.
The project’s developers, 225 Baronne Complex LLC and Kingfish Development LLC, went before the commission with two requests: a conditional use permit to transform the building’s second through tenth floors into a garage, and permission to demolish an adjacent, two-story structure at 919 Gravier St. The site of that building will become the entrance to the parking garage. Neither request drew opposition.
The matter will go to the New Orleans City Council for final approval.
Developers hope to begin the $90 million conversion in October and open 14 months later. The development also will include two pools, one each for the hotel and apartments.
The proposed development would be the first use of the building since Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s a pleasure to see a developer coming in to move these buildings back into commerce,” Commissioner Joseph Williams said. “I wholeheartedly move approval.”
The New Orleans building once proposed as a home for City Hall will soon become the headquarters of The New Orleans Receivables Exchange and, in the process, will take on the company’s name, the head of the Receivables Exchange and the owner of the building said.
Chevron Place, which has gone by City Centre since Kingfish Development LLC purchased it from the oil company last year, will soon become The New Orleans Exchange Centre.
The Receivables Exchange, which launched in New Orleans in November 2008, will move into the building’s entire top floor, about 20,000 square feet of usable office space, later this month or in early February, Receivables Exchange co-founder Nic Perkin said. The 21-story tower sits at the corner of O’Keefe and Gravier streets.
Hugh Uhalt, a principal in Kingfish Development, said the Receivables Exchange was chosen as the anchor tenant and its name will be placed on the building’s marquee because it is indicative of the type of businesses the developer hopes to lure to the somewhat sleepy section of the Central Business District.
“They’re the type of company that we’re trying to attract to the city,” Uhalt said. “I consider us all to be like-minded individuals. We see this city going to another level of prosperity.”
The Receivables Exchange is a marketplace where users buy and sell financial collateral through a live market. The process is similar to stock trading but instead of stocks, the businesses that use the exchange sell accounts receivable, the money owed to them from customers who bought goods or services using credit.
Perkin said the company will grow to about 100 employees nationwide, 80 in New Orleans, by the end of this year. The firm has been growing at a rapid fire pace, increasing its transaction volume by about 500 percent last year, Perkin said.
The Receivables Exchange has been touted by business leaders and local politicians as a model for business development in New Orleans. But Perkin said he also has heard those same people wonder aloud if the company will remain in New Orleans after achieving a certain level of success. Perkin said part of the reason the Receivables Exchange wanted to move to a building that would bear its name is to communicate the company’s commitment to the city.
“This demonstrates our firm commitment to New Orleans,” Perkin said. “We don’t take moving into a building and naming a building lightly. It’s not just a nice thing to have. You do it when you commit to the company and the city.”
The Receivables Exchange is moving from a loft-style space on Camp Street. The new office will include a “staging area” where sellers can introduce themselves and announce the availability of their account in a fashion similar to that employed by the New York Stock Exchange. The announcements will be broadcast online in some form.
Reflecting on the former use and owner of the building, Perkin said the company’s move there will signal New Orleans transition to a city with an increasingly diversified business community. “If you think about it from a symbolic standpoint, it’s out with the old, in with the new,” Perkin said. “I think that’s indicative of the way the city is going.”
Kingfish bought Chevron Place in 2010 for $6 million. Chevron had left the building in 2008 when it moved to its offices to Covington. Before the Kingfish purchase, the building had also been eyed by then Mayor Ray Nagin as a new home for City Hall. The city had offered $8 million for the property, but the City Council shot down Nagin’s plan.
After its purchase, Kingfish Development renamed the building City Centre and said it would become a “hub for technology based companies, entrepreneurs and companies who want a prestigious downtown business address.” Uhalt said he has been surprised by the number of occupancy requests he has received in fewer than three months.
“I thought it would take us four or five years to fill the building up,” Uhalt said. “Now I think it’ll take us less than two.” About four tenants in addition to Receivables Exchange are in the process of signing leases, Uhalt said, though he declined to name them. Stifel Nicolaus & Company, the financial services firm Uhalt works for, is also moving into the building. Roughly thirty companies are in talks with Kingfish about leasing opportunities, Uhalt said. About 800 people will work in the building when it is fully occupied. The office building will also include a cafe and wine bar and a gym, Uhalt said.
Uhalt said the building is trying to attract, in part, high-growth but still developing businesses that want to be located downtown. “People underestimate the demand for reasonably priced high-end property,” Uhalt said. “A lot of these people can’t go into a building and pay $20 a square foot.”
There will be a formal ribbon cutting later this year when more tenants have moved in and renovations in the lobby are complete, Uhalt said.
By: Jaquetta White, Times Picayune
See original article here.