Does high-dollar hotel on the Westbank make sense?
Don Ames Reporting
Ground was broken just this week for construction of a new Marriott Courtyard hotel in Gretna.
The $50 million, four-story, 123-room hotel is the first of an expected three hotels to be built on a recently annexed parcel of Gretna north of the West Bank Expressway.
It will be an 'almost downtown New Orleans' hotel, and comes in spite of New Orleans tourism and marketing officials saying the downtown area really can't sustain a new hotel at this time.
Local real estate expert, Wade Ragas, respectfully disagrees, saying the experts must know what they're doing.
"The Marriott chain has some of the best market research in the country. And, if they say there's a market, then there probably is. You can see that there are people trying to do other hotel projects. One of which was almost a thousand rooms. You have HRI, that knows the business, adding rooms. So, there is a view among developers that there is a need here for additional rooms."
Mark Romig, President of The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, said recently that the current average occupancy rate for New Orleans hotels, year-round, is about 68 percent. He said it would take an average year-round rate of about 80 percent to warrant additional hotel rooms for the downtown area.
Again, Ragas sees a different picture.
"The shortage of overall rooms in the New Orleans market, I believe, is about two thousand rooms," Ragas says. "So, whether we build them in Orleans downtown or we build them suburban, there's a shortage of rooms. And, that's why our occupancies are, overall, very high and our rents are getting high."
And, he says there are a number of reasons why the Gretna scenario makes sense.
"There's been almost no construction for a very long time on the Westbank," says Ragas. "There is an expansion in oil and gas and they may be looking at what's happening with fracking and oil and gas exploration. The Harvey Canal is still a very high concentration of oil and gas firms. That's also true in the upper part of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish, and that (Gretna) site can get you to Plaquemines pretty quickly, as well."
"And, commuting from the West Bank to the east is now easier than it has been. So, that site offers good visibility and is easy to use."
BN Management of Harvey will build the new hotel on a tract wedged between Algiers and Terrytown, on an 11-acre tract of land between Whitney Avenue and the West Bank Expressway...just over the Orleans Parish line. Future phases are expected to include additional hotels and other commercial and retail activity.
BN already operates hotels in New Orleans, Marrero, Harvey, Chalmette and Berwick. The Gretna hotel would be the company's 10th development.
The Gretna Courtyard by Marriott will include meeting rooms, an indoor pool and 123 parking spaces and should be completed by mid-2015, according to a spokesman for the development.
Is there gold west of the Mississippi?
"The Westbank is not becoming a boom town," says Ragas. "It hasn't had any new hotel construction in, maybe, fifteen years. But, that site is right by the foot of the bridge. It's about the fastest place to be staying to commute into downtown New Orleans. And if they price it properly, it'll attract people who want Marriott Courtyard quality and a little more affordable price. You would expect the room rates to be a little lower than the typical Marriott Courtyard.