The National WWII Museum board has chosen a new management company to run its $66.5 million Higgins Hotel and Conference Center, which opened next door to the museum just under a year ago.
The Atlanta-based Davidson Hotels & Resorts group has taken over management of the 230-room “Curio by Hilton”-branded hotel, which like most of the hotels in New Orleans has been running at severely depleted occupancy levels since spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chicago-based Hostmark Hospitality Group, had been the management company for the Higgins since the project was first conceived in 2017 as an extension of the museum, with WWII tributes like the Rosie the Riveter-themed rooftop bar, wartime memorabilia adorning much of its interior, as well as offering educational crossover activities.
Though beset by several construction delays, which resulted in ongoing lawsuits against some of the engineers who’d worked on the project, the art deco-styled hotel held its grand opening in December 2019 and had seen occupancy rates around 70%-to-80% early in the year before the shutdown.
Neither the WWII Museum no Hostmark responded to requests for comment on the reasons for the management changeover.
Thom Geshay, President of Davidson, said his company had been looking for years for a hotel to manage in New Orleans but had never previously been successful. He said that despite the current depressed state of the hotel market nationally, Davidson liked the prospects for the Higgins Hotel and New Orleans more generally.
“We’ve been waiting for the right opportunity in New Orleans for years and for us it’s really playing long ball,” Geshay said.
Davidson manages 61 hotels across the country, including the 419-room Hyatt Centric in downtown Chicago, as well as smaller hotels like the 91-room King Charles Inn in Charleston, South Carolina.
Geshay noted that the hotels in the “drive-to” leisure markets, like New Orleans, Charleston and St. Petersburg, Florida have held up better than some of the larger markets, like San Francisco, New York or Washington D.C., where hotel occupancy is struggling to get out of single-digits.
New Orleans hotel occupancy has recovered from virtually zero in April to average about 30%-to-40%, supported mainly by individuals and families driving from nearby population centers within relatively easy reach, like Houston and Atlanta, said Geshay.
“As the industry recovers that will bode well for New Orleans until such time as we can get larger groups to gather,” he said.
Still, Geshay acknowledged that the convention business, which is such a big driver of visitors to the city, will not recover at least through the first half of next year. Festivals, sporting events and cruise ships also are likely to be in limbo until there is a vaccination widely available.
“Until we can get the conventions and festivals back again it’s going to be slow,” said Geshay, who started his career as General Manager at a hotel that is now The Indigo on St. Charles Avenue.