As developers put the finishing touches on a new hotel and residential complex in the former Louisiana Children's Museum, details have emerged about the most captivating feature of the project: A private club.
The Common House social club will be a modern version of the kind of exclusive clubs that have been a mainstay of London and other metropolitan cities for centuries.
The club, which will occupy much of the old museum space on Julia Street, will have bars, a restaurant and various common rooms. Members will also have access to a gym and rooftop pool. An annual membership will cost around $2,000.
Founded in Charlottesville, Virginia six years ago, Common House is part of a wave of private club development across the U.S. in recent decades. The club will be surrounded by hotel rooms and residential apartments that offer flexible leasing options for both short and long term stays. The complex is designed to appeal to remote workers who move frequently, but want to stay in one locale longer than leisure travelers.
Developer AJ Capital, based in Nashville, Tennessee, originally hoped to bring in London-based Soho House as its club partner, but that deal fell through for unknown reasons.
Soho House was the original new-wave social club, founded in London in the mid-1990s to cater for "media darlings" in that city. It had a very exclusive membership early on, including celebrities, politicians and well-known journalists. But it has long-since loosened its membership criteria and raised its rates as it expanded to major U.S. cities and around the world.
Common House has a much looser approach to membership, said Ben Pfinsgraff, one of the founders.
"Soho House has said they are primarily for 'creatives,' but we're not for any group in particular," he said. "We're for anyone and everyone."
Interior construction work is still being done on the club, which will retain its signature exterior blue shutters and many of the old warehouse features inside, and is expected to open in early summer. There is currently no cap on how many people can join, although other Common House clubs typically have between 1,000 and 1,500 members. A committee in New Orleans will start vetting potential members later this month, officials said.
Like the club, the attached five-story hotel and apartment complex on Tchoupitoulas Street is a fairly new concept in the market.
Called Memoir Residential, the development will have 43 hotel rooms — 20 in the two-story former museum and 23 in a newly-built five-story structure — as well as 70 residential units in the upper three floors of the new building, according to original plans.
The unfurnished residential units can be leased for a year or more, but other furnished units can rent for as few as 15 days. The idea is to cater to the traveling habits of professionals whose jobs can be done remotely, according to Richard Lawson, an analyst at CoStar, which tracks hospitality data and trends.
Memoir Residential is among a growing list of hotel-apartment hybrid operators offering a wider range of leasing options to appeal to people who move more frequently or like to extend their trips, Lawson says.
"Companies like Sentral, Landing and Blueground are among the biggest names in the flexible leasing apartment business," according to Lawson.
AJ Capital took on its first hybrid club-hotel development 10 years ago when it partnered with Soho House for a joint project in Chicago's West Loop area. It has another similar deal in Nashville and it opened its third Soho House partnership last October in Portland, Oregon, in the gentrifying Central Eastside area.
As with the Julia Street property, many of the projects have been in historic areas that are being rehabilitated and are eligible for a range of federal, state and local tax breaks. Locally, the company also owns the Pontchartrain Hotel, where it oversaw a major renovation seven years ago in partnership with John Besh's Our House Hospitality.
It is not clear why AJ Capital did not proceed with the plan to partner with Soho House in New Orleans — neither AJ Capital nor Soho House had anyone available to comment. The two plan to open a fourth joint venture later this year in Charleston, South Carolina, according to AJ Capital's website.
Pfinsgraff said Common House was glad to step into the Louisiana Children's Museum project.
Pfinsgraff, who was a pitcher for Philadelphia Phillies farm teams before moving into finance in New York and then onto hotel management, said the ethos for the club was formed when he moved south and met Derek Sieg, an independent filmmaker who also had moved from the big city to Charlottesville. Pfinsgraff said he immediately latched onto Sieg's idea for a laid back club with a Southern, smaller-city vibe.
They now have about 4,000 members spread across three clubs in Charlottesville, Richmond, Virginia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The average member's age is about 35 and skews female, with women making up more than 60% of membership.
The annual membership fee for Common House will be less than half that of Soho House, he said. Discounts also will be available for military veterans, students and others.