A proposal for a boutique hotel on the site of the former Hummingbird Grill is progressing through the city’s approval process.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously this week to recommend approval of the 29,000 square foot development at 749 St. Charles Ave. The vacant property, which once housed the Hummingbird Hotel and its legendary 24-hour restaurant, sits between Julia and Girod streets in the central business district.
Chris Sarpy, owner of the property and developer of the proposed five-story hotel, said it would have a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, with balconies for the rooms overlooking St. -Charles and a small hall. There is no restaurant planned, he said.
Current zoning requirements require the development to have off-street cargo space, but hotel architect Ken Gowland of METROSTUDIO asked the CPC for a waiver as he said it was a small hotel who didn’t need it.
Cargo space and necessary modifications to the public right-of-way, Gowland said, would result in less walking, given the interruption to the curb. There would also be fewer street parking spaces, he said.
A CPC staff report favored granting conditional use approval for the hotel, but not the waiver of the off-street cargo space rule. But CPC Commissioner Robert Steeg agreed with Gowland, noting that the property is landlocked and with a narrow frontage only along St. Charles Avenue.
“I think there’s a demonstrable difficulty because there are similar properties and uses that don’t have that,” he said.
There were no public comments or opposition during the meeting. The city council has the final say on the proposal, which is still in the development stage. Sarpy said it will have to undergo a “little structural overhaul” and he hopes to innovate by the end of the year. A hotel operator has not been named.
According to the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office, Sarpy purchased the property from an entity known as Lepre Properties in January 2017 for $1.825 million. The Secretary of State’s office lists Harahan residents Edward and Laura Lepre as governing members of Lepre Properties.
“I always wanted to develop something in CBD,” Sarpy said. “It’s just a great location.”
For more than half a century, the Hummingbird Grill and its eggs, pancakes, burgers, fried chicken and coffee were popular among a wide variety of New Orleansers, including “artists, lawyers, wrecks , debutantes, drifters, taxi drivers, cops and other denizens of darkness,” according to a website dedicated to her story.
Opened by 21-year-old Harry Hillensbeck a few years after World War II, it closed in 2002 due to “the inevitable fallout from the gentrification that began in the neighborhood in the 1980s in order to host the 1984 World’s Fair. in Louisiana”. says the website. A previous hotel proposal for the site never came to fruition, and Sarpy demolished the building after acquiring it.
He had begun work on a similar hotel concept nearby at 923 Julia Street, the site of a surface parking lot, which would have had 30 rooms with 29 off-street parking spaces. Sarpy said the development team was finalizing bids to begin construction when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the construction industry to a halt with supply chain disruptions and other issues.
“The project just lost momentum,” he said.
Sarpy has managed two developments on Veterans Boulevard near the Jefferson-Orleans parish line in recent years. One is a strip mall at 730 Veterans Boulevard near the Dorignac Food Center, with tenants including Starbucks, Moe’s Southwestern Grill, and South Rivage Dental. He also developed property at 210 and 212 Veterans Blvd. where there is a Raising Cane’s and a small mall.
In 2019, Sarpy and some local investors purchased Whole Foods Plaza at 3420 Veterans Blvd. to Metairie for $16.1 million. The deal was a re-acquisition of the site, which also has a Jared Galleria of Jewelry that it developed in 2005.
Sarpy also helped redevelop a historic bus barn on Magazine Street into Whole Foods and owns a few properties on Magazine Street, including one that houses Pizza Domenica.