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Innovation & Design

Architect to Help Revitalize New Orleans

In a quandary over what to do with the Katrina-devastated Hyatt Regency New Orleans Hotel, Laurence Geller, CEO of Strategic Hotels, the Chicago-based owner, sought the help of Pritzker-winning architect Thom Mayne, FAIA. Instead of just rehabilitating the building, he has created plans for a $715 million, 20-acre multiuse center and park that will include a refurbished Hyatt Hotel, the National Jazz Center, a new city hall, civic courthouse, amphitheater, and residential buildings.

Plans for the project were unveiled in New Orleans on May 30. It is the first major redevelopment announced since Hurricane Katrina. Developers say the project is more of a transformation of a depressed neighborhood than a hotel renovation meant to inspire hope for the city and to inspire the confidence of potential developers.

"I am not prepared to give up on New Orleans," says Geller. "We have a $200 million asset there, and it can't be ignored or moved to another city. I don't normally cut and run and leave gap-toothed buildings lying around." The surrounding neighborhood includes the Louisiana Superdome, City Hall, and a shopping center.

Courtesy: Morphosis/Stategic Hotels

Mayne will design the National Jazz Center, which will be home to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and also include performance spaces, studios, classrooms, a library, and offices. Designs are still very preliminary, but initial renderings of the project reveal the use of bulky, sculptural forms, silvery steel mesh, cantilevered building elements, and folded and curved planes. Throughout the park interactive art, gardens, and fountains will reflect Southern culture. Details of the other building projects have not been decided yet. "I would imagine that this next year will be spent in planning, " says New Orleans architect Ray Manning, AIA, the lead local architect in the planning and design of the district. "Then we will have a groundbreaking ceremony for the park."

Courtesy: Morphosis/Stategic Hotels

Geller notes that he chose Mayne because, "we wanted an architect with a global view, and one who would command respect from constituent components. We looked at a number of architects and the work they were doing in cities rather than individual buildings. He is participative, research-oriented, and analytical, makes very broad strokes and then hones in concentrically to key points. His designs are dramatic, not trite, not repeating designs like some of the household-name architects."

The plans were created in consultation with the Hyatt District Rebirth Advisory Board, funded by Strategic. Experts from fields including architecture and planning, the arts, economics and hospitality also participated in their creation. The project is expected to generate 6, 500 permanent jobs and have bring in $6 billion over the next 20 years.

The post-Katrina environment presents the prime opportunity to reinvent the hotel as part of a completely transformed district, says Manning. "Before Katrina this kind of project, quite honestly, might have encountered a lot more resistance. We have the opportunity to re-envision ourselves, and try to create a catalytic project that will help move the city forward. It's not an entirely altruistic act we're performing here. It makes good business sense to use our cultural elements as a catalytic event to make New Orleans thrive."

The new Hyatt Jazz District will be a public-private project. Hyatt has already invested nearly $3 million on planning and has identified about $450 million in funding, Geller says. The Hyatt Jazz District will be linked to other areas of the city, including the French Quarter, convention center, and riverfront.

It will be another month before the Hyatt's interior demolition is complete. Then, the hotel's owners will begin external demolition and re-skinning. "We're doing a whole series of different contracts in bite-sized pieces, " says Geller. Its entrance will be relocated to the east side of the building, its interior updated, new ballroom space will be built, and a rooftop restaurant will be added.

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