Katrina damaged Hyatt to reopen next year

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by Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on July 13, 2010 at 7:11 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 13 at 7:58 PM

Finally, signs of progress in a building that stood frozen in time for nearly five years.

Hurricane Katrina blew through the 31-story New Orleans Hyatt Regency, busting out windows and leaving the hotel with severe wind and water damage.

"At no time was it on my mind that maybe the hotel wouldn't reopen," said Michael Smith, who was the general manager of the Hyatt when Katrina struck. Smith has now returned from North Carolina to help reopen the hotel, which has had a tough road back.

Three years ago, the Hyatt's previous owner, Strategic Hotels sold the building "as is" to a group of investors known as Poydras Properties.

"I felt that this was my place and this is where I belong," said Smith. "I kind of owed it to myself, but I also owed it to the city of New Orleans."  

In recent years the downtown Hyatt went from being a symbol of Katrina, to a symbol of the country's down economy. 

The hotel sat vacant for three years while the new owners looked for $275 million in financing to redo the storm battered building.

"The economy was bad, the hospitality industry was down and these things were happening and it would have been very difficult to open a brand new hotel during that time," said Smith.    

The Hyatt is now poised to reopen with 1,200 rooms in late 2011.  

"The 200,000 square feet of meeting space, the two, 25,000 square foot ballrooms, the 80,000 square feet of exhibit space is going to open this up to an entirely different market," said Smith.  

The Hyatt's rebirth comes at a time when the old Dominion Tower next door is about to reopen as a state office building.  

The state also knocked down part of the old New Orleans Centre mall for the first phase a new sports and entertainment district adjacent to the hotel.  

"Having this entertainment plaza, next to the facilities that we have, the New Orleans Arena and the Superdome certainly is going to be a plus," said Louisiana Superdome GM Alan Freeman. "Having the Hyatt on board now as being part of the overall landscape, if you will, certainly is going to add to the vitality of this district."  

The Hyatt's reopening also coincides with some big events at the Dome and Arena including -- the BCS championship game in early 2012 and the Super Bowl and NCAA men's Final Four in 2013.  

"This is the absolutely, positively the perfect time," said Smith.  

The Hyatt is expected to create 600 permanent jobs, another 500 construction jobs during the rebuilding and generate $17 million a year in local tax revenue. 

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