Groups visiting the National WWII Museum
in New Orleans will soon have a brand-new hotel and conference center for their meeting attendees. On Dec. 8, the military history museum and its board of trustees officially broke ground on the Higgins Hotel & Conference Center, with completion expected in 2019. The 230-room hotel, which will have an 18,000-square-foot conference center on its second floor, is expected to join the Curio Collection by Hilton -- the first Curio Collection property in Louisiana.
The hotel is named after Higgins Industries shipbuilder Andrew Higgins, and will feature art deco design elements meant to evoke the World War II era. The conference center will include a boardroom and five meeting rooms, bearing names that touch on themes of World War II. Altogether, the project is budgeted at $66.5 million.
Stephen J. Watson, president and CEO of the museum, emphasized that the new venue is intended to not only enhance visitors' experiences of the museum, but to help financially support its educational mission (hotel profits will be distributed to the National WWII Museum to build its endowment and cover ongoing capital maintenance), saying that "a hotel and conference center is a natural choice" for accomplishing both goals.
"We fundamentally believe that a dedicated space to host educational programs for students, teachers, enthusiasts, corporate groups, reunion groups, and military is a core component of what we should have here at the museum," said Watson.
The museum, formerly known as the National D-Day Museum before Congress designated it the National WWII Museum in 2000, attracted 700,000 visitors this year -- 85 percent of them visiting from out of state. Brandon Berger, board chairman of World War II Theatre, Inc., a wholly owned special purpose entity established by the museum's board of trustees, emphasized the demand created by the attraction, saying that it drives 300,000 room nights at hotels throughout New Orleans, annually.
"A hotel will give us the opportunity to offer our visitors convenient accommodations in the ever-expanding Warehouse District neighborhood," said Berger. "But the development will also be geared toward furthering the museum's educational and research resources for students and scholars alike."
He pointed to author events, conferences, and historic symposia as among the opportunities that the new venue could facilitate.
Representatives for the Hilton brand also expressed enthusiasm about the new property.
"The Higgins Hotel & Conference Center will be a great addition to Louisiana and the Curio Collection by Hilton portfolio," added Bill Fortier, senior vice president of development, Americas, Hilton. "The property will provide guests a truly unique and historical experience. As a new build property, we are excited that we have officially broken ground and look forward to opening in 2019."