Rising on RoyalFor many years, a historic but blighted five-story building has lain fallow on the 100 block of Royal Street, right at the entrance to the French Quarter. Several developers have examined the task of rehabilitating the 19th century property, which had housed the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the Astor Hotel and the St. Regis Café through the years, though none seemed able to make a feasible plan.
 
But local developers Angelo Farrell and Lee Laporte came up with a solution that – though it has provoked sharp controversy – should begin to take shape soon. The developers plan to renovate the façade of the old hotel building and, in the key lot space behind it, erect a 26-story tower for a project now called the Royal Cosmopolitan. The property will be run as a “condotel,” or a hybrid of a high-end condominium complex and a hotel where units are sold to individuals as condos and also rented as hotel rooms when the owners are not staying there.

“Other people looked at this property before us but we had a vision for it that went beyond their plans,” says Laporte.

Farrell and Laporte bought the property in 2005 and initially won city regulatory approval to build a 17-story tower on the site. After Hurricane Katrina however, the developers expanded their plans, which Farrell says was necessary because of higher post-storm construction and insurance costs. The revised plan drew strong objections from preservation leaders and some city planners because it greatly exceeds the city’s 85-foot height limit for the block. Some opponents said they fear it will set a precedent for other developers to build similarly large tower projects and box in the French Quarter with high-rises. However, some Canal Street business owners supported the plan and argued before city officials that the high-end project would help clean up the threshold of the French Quarter.

The developers eventually won approval, with City Council members explaining publicly that this project should be seen as an exception to height restrictions and was needed as an economic catalyst after Katrina.  
“The 200 block of Royal Street is beautiful and we’re 75 feet away from it,” says Farrell. “We plan on cleaning up that block and making it look like the best of Royal Street.”

The renovated hotel building and new tower will include 107 condominium suites and 24 guest rooms, plus a rooftop bar and restaurant. Condo prices will range from $349,000 to $875,000. The property will be managed by Salamander Hospitality, a Virginia-based firm created by Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and president of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Construction of the Royal Cosmopolitan is expected to begin early this year.