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WWII museum moves into indie space with Higgins Hotel
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Courtesy: Harvey Chipkin | News Source:

NEW ORLEANS— Many hotels are now positioning themselves as veritable museums with collections of art or artifacts creating unique environments. But The Higgins Hotel & Conference Center, scheduled to open in New Orleans in December, offers an even more unusual attribute.

The property is owned and operated by The National WWII Museum, which opened in 2000 and welcomes almost 800,000 visitors annually.

The 230-room property, across the street from the museum, is named after Andrew Jackson Higgins, founder of Higgins Industries in New Orleans, who designed and built a boat that was instrumental in the invasion of Normandy in 1944 and in other naval campaigns. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the invasion, said the entire course of the war would have been different if not for the boat.

Daniel Rhodes, GM at The Higgins Hotel, said the property may well be the first owned and operated by a history museum. He said the ability to offer guests exclusive museum programming and a fully immersive travel experience is a unique selling point. The hotel’s profits go directly to supporting the museum’s educational initiatives, he said. Beyond that, “our priority is still to keep service and guest satisfaction high year-round,” he said.

Marc Becker, director of sales and marketing at the property, said rotating exhibits from the museum will be placed in the hotel. In addition, revenue from the hotel will go toward the museum’s endowment.

A built-in base

The guest base for the hotel will mostly be made up of museum visitors, as 90% of them are from out of state, Rhodes said. Military reunions will be a prime market, as well as families of those who had any role in the war. With multi-day visits becoming more common, it was “a logical next step to expand to include the hotel and conference center,” he said.

In addition, the hotel is just three blocks from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in the Warehouse District, home to many popular restaurants and other museums in what Becker calls a “cultural mecca.” The St. Charles Streetcar Line is a block away and a hop-on/hop-off tour bus stops in front of the hotel.

While the hotel is owned by the museum, it has reached out to professional hospitality companies to partner with. The hotel falls under Hilton’s Curio Collection and will be managed by Hostmark Hospitality Group. Becker said the Curio portfolio fits with the hotel’s appeal to travelers who are “curious and looking for something different.” It’s also the first Curio in Louisiana, he said.

James Williams, VP of sales for the museum, said being part of a collection allows the property to have more flexibility with design and other decisions. In fact, the hotel’s designers worked with museum curators in creating its look and feel, which reference the World War II-era. It is being built in an Art Deco modern style both inside and out with custom-made furniture reflecting that period.

The hotel’s décor, artifacts, dining and other amenities were all designed “to spark curiosity among guests in learning more about the American experience in World War II,” Rhodes said. Whether it’s a historical snippet on a coaster in the bar or an extended story in the room’s digital compendium, the hotel finds unique ways to educate and engage guests on these topics, he said.

Becker said he hopes the hotel’s various food-and-beverage outlets will draw in local business. Venues include Café Normandie, which will serve country French cuisine prepared by a French chef, Kilroy’s bar that hearkens back to the ubiquitous “Kilroy was here” graffiti during the war, and Rosie’s on the Roof, which will be another bar that recalls the legendary Rosie the Riveter, he said.

Donor opportunities

Donors can dedicate rooms either to veterans or anyone else they choose who might be appropriate. There will be a plaque outside, information on the honoree inside and additional recognition elsewhere. There are already 40 dedicated rooms with 75 to 100 expected by the opening, Becker said. Public spaces can be dedicated as well.

The 18,000-square foot conference center in the hotel will be used for museum events and educational programs as well as outside meetings. Groups will be an important market and will be able to incorporate museum attractions and space into their conferences. For instance, one museum venue is a pavilion that has six vintage aircraft hanging from the ceiling. Becker said a number of groups had already expressed interest in extending their meetings to take advantage of the museum’s attractions.

These options provide an ideal opportunity to make meetings more experiential, which is a trend, Becker said. They can also employ entertainment popular at the museum such as singers who perform songs from the era, including a Frank Sinatra impersonator.

While the Higgins will be an upscale hotel, it purposely was designed in a way that won’t feel super luxurious in order to appeal to a wider audience

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