ASH NYC and local developer Nathalie Jordi are the masterminds behind the awe-inspiring Hotel Peter and Paul in NOLA’s Marigny neighborhood. We had the pleasure of touring the the former school house, rectory, church and convent--turned 71 guest room hotel--and getting to know Nathalie. Here’s what she had to say about the partnership’s preservationist-centric development and her experience co-opening a hotel in her own neighborhood.
Ashley: We’re really excited to bring our group to Hotel Peter and Paul. On our half-day immersion, this visit will be the most specific to hospitality. It’s not a tour of hotels, so the other places we’ll look at--like neighborhood arts spaces--folks are thinking about community and development in a different way. Can you tell us a little about the history?
Nathalie: This is the former Saints Peter and Paul Church and School. We have four buildings on this block: the school, the rectory, the church, the convent, and a parking lot.
The site was the former Catholic school and church of Saints Peter and Paul--an Irish Catholic community built in the late 1800’s. It lasted over 100 years. The school shut down in the late 90’s and the church in 2000. It had been vacant for a long time before we got involved.
A: How did that come about?
N: I live in the neighborhood, about four blocks away. Some neighbors of mine bought it from the Archdiocese but didn’t have any interest in developing it. I was looking to do a small hotel in the neighborhood. This site came up as a possibility but was bigger than what I could have accomplished on my own, so I teamed up with a company called ASH NYC, a design and real estate development firm that had recently opened their first hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. My partner Ari Heckman, who is the CEO of ASH NYC, was interested in New Orleans and came down to look at it. He was really enthusiastic about it--more so than me actually because I didn’t know if we would be able to get the zoning changes we needed. So we became partners and gave it a shot.
A: Can you talk to us about your process?
N: We’ve been open for a year but all in all we’ve been working on it for six years.
This is a dense, active residential neighborhood and active preservationist neighborhood.
So Ari and I put together a plan that was focused on preservation: we weren’t going to build any new buildings, we weren’t going to demolish any old buildings, we were going to keep the church available for community events, and we had quite a lot of parking. Most residents don’t have off-street parking and were concerned about being able to park in front of their homes.
We worked with a local architecture firm and local contracting firm to do all the design and permits. The financing took about 18 months for a process that normally takes a few months.
A: It’s a really unique aesthetic that I haven’t seen--with the gingham.
N: The design team, helmed by ASH’s Chief Creative Officer Will Cooper, was looking for a fabric that was both European and American, modern and classic and so that’s why he kept coming back to gingham.
A: It’s stunning. As somebody who has stayed at a lot of hotels that all start to feel the same--this is really special.
N: The courtyard is so serene when it’s warm and you can sit below the stained glass windows.
A: It’s a huge amount of space you’re working with.
N: Yeah, it’s been hard to figure out how to work efficiently - the housekeepers have to do a lot of walking around.
A: As we talk to people about how to do development more ethically in a way that benefits the community, your hotel and your name comes up. People feel like you and ASH have done a great job successfully connecting with what’s actually needed and forging relationships while the project was underway, instead of trying to force your way in like “hey I’m here!”
How did your process of getting involved in the community inform your hiring decisions and how you’re staffing things?
N: Thank you for saying that. It’s been a real privilege to work on this project in this neighborhood. All our staff is New Orleanians and there’s a lot of talent here. Hopefully we create a place where people enjoy coming to work and they feel respected, where they want to work hard because they see everyone else working hard. Of course, it’s not perfect, we’ve had turnover. It’s a work-in-progress. But the people we have are great and it feels so good to finally be open.
A: It seems like you’re doing a ton of programming.
N: We just hired someone who will be doing events full time--we wanted to wait awhile to figure out the balance. There’s a great opportunity with the event space to generate revenue and have cool stuff happening that benefits the community. But I never want to do that in a way that jeopardizes the the guest experience.
We did over 300 things in the church in our first year, but most were super low key events like yoga classes, I’m excited to see how it will evolve.
A: New Orleans is an amazing city and the hotel is such a gem--it will be great for people to have an opportunity to get more exposure and perspective on it in a direct way.