Mayor Mike Cooper is especially excited about the new ownership of the Southern Hotel property in the heart of downtown Covington.
The hotel was built in 1907 during the glory days of the “Ozone Belt,” when the area enjoyed immense popularity as a resort. The cool air flowing out of the piney woods was welcome in the days before air conditioning, and area waters, whether from springs or deep wells, were reputed to be medicinal. The Southern Hotel and others on the northshore thus attracted guests from all over the country.
Lisa Condrey Ward purchased the Southern Hotel along with her husband, Joseph, her brother Ricky Condrey and his wife, Gayle, in 2011. She is familiar with its history, noting, “It catered to northerners during the winter and New Orleanians during the summer.” They purchased the building last November, but it had been on her mind since she first saw it. “We moved here from New Orleans in 1999. I started talking about it, probably the day after we moved here, ‘Gosh, why hasn’t somebody turned that back into a hotel?’”
Their plans are to renovate the mission-style, 34,000-square-foot building and open it as a boutique hotel. Ward has hired architect Peter Trapolin of New Orleans, a veteran of several successful historic hotel renovations.
While it’s still on the drawing board, Ward says, “It’s going to have 41 rooms and a restaurant on the New Hampshire corner. We’re looking for an exciting restaurateur to work with on the build-out.” She hopes her plans for the property spark as much interest in what the area has to offer today’s visitors as the elements did at the turn of the century. “I want people to come here and enjoy things like the bike path—we’re going to have bikes available and kayaks for the river.”
Renovations include facilities that Covington residents will be able to take advantage of as well as the hotel’s guests. “We’re going to have a ballroom and space for business meetings.” Ward notes the building is in the shape of a “u” that opens onto the alley that runs from New Hampshire to Vermont. “We’re going to close that in and have the ballroom and all those spaces spill out into a really beautiful courtyard. It will be a very nice party space. The hotel bar will be open to everyone, and that’s going to have access to the courtyard, too.”
Echoing Mayor Cooper’s optimism in the project’s role in the revitalization of downtown Covington, Ward says, “I think there’s going to be a renaissance. Covington is already a great little town. My personal vision is to expand the types and diversity of businesses into something similar to what Magazine Street has in New Orleans. If we put that together, get the movie theater open—and hopefully the hotel will be an ideal catalyst for that—it will become a really wonderful, pedestrian-friendly city that has a lot to offer.”Filed under: Architecture, Front Page Feature, History, May-June 2012, St. Tammany Life