See inside $435M Caesars New Orleans conversion project
Jaime Guillet, Contributing Writer//October 2, 2023
Photos courtesy Caesars Entertainment.
With a topping out ceremony set for this week at Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel & Casino, the finish line gets a bit closer for what soon will be the updated and re-branded Caesars New Orleans — including Nobu restaurant and a Nobu-branded hotel.
On Tuesday, Oct. 3, Caesars Entertainment will hold the “topping out” ceremony for the new 340-room Caesars New Orleans hotel tower currently under construction as part of the $435-million overhaul of Harrah’s New Orleans. This progress joins the project’s most recent headway — completion of the 12,000-square-foot food hall renovation. With the topping out for the hotel, “we will have finished the completion of the last floor in terms of pouring the concrete and installing the last of the beams,” said Kennedy Smith, marketing vice president for Caesars Entertainment.
“We are looking at about a little less than a year out with welcoming our first guest … estimated summer 2024,” said Smith.
Also for summer 2024 is recent regulatory direction for the official rebranding from Harrah’s New Orleans to Caesars New Orleans, Smith said. With the new construction, the new Caesars Food Hall is moved from where the previous quick service restaurants of Fuddruckers, Starbucks and McAlister’s Deli used to occupy to where the former theater used to be, explained Smith.
“So, it is a very large space with a great deal of seating,” Smith said.
Caesars already has deals in place with three of the four specialty food vendors inhabiting the new Food Hall: Nina Compton’s Creole Cottage, Pizza Cake by “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro, celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burgers and a fourth, which is yet to be developed, Smith said. In the previous quick service restaurant space will now be Emeril’s Brasserie, Emeril Lagasse’s first French-inspired restaurant concept which will dovetail his more typical Creole flavors with French-inspired dishes. A fast casual coffee and bakery concept model called Emeril’s Petite Brasserie will also be a part of the space, which occupies approximately 9,000 square feet at the ground floor.
“Emeril’s Brasserie, which will be a three-meal breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant, will be right at that Canal Street entrance,” said Smith. The (dining) areas are different in both their physical location as well as the Food Hall is a bit more of a quick service, order at the counter concept where Emeril’s Brasserie is more of a sit-down.”
Smith expects Emeril’s Brasserie to have a soft launch “a few days before Halloween” and fully operational by early November. Ryan Gootee General Contractors worked in collaboration with AECOM/Tishman in renovating the space. JCJ Architecture was the designer on the project.
With construction essentially broken into “two large categories,” Smith describes the first tier as construction of the new 340-room Caesars Hotel tower that is being built in the area that used to occupy the casino valet, directly across from the Four Seasons Hotel and the new $43.5 million Canal Street ferry terminal. The second portion of the project is the renovation of both the interior and exterior of the existing casino structure, which includes the addition of new food and beverage outlets including Emeril’s Brasserie as well as Nobu Restaurant, and the specialty vendor Food Hall.
“At this point in time we have completed maybe 25 percent of the renovations, however we’re going to make a giant step forward at the end of October when we open up our new Canal Street entrance, directly across from Canal Place, as well as open up Emeril’s Brasserie and that entire section of the inside of the casino that has been under renovation since the Fourth of July,” said Smith.
The Nobu of it all
Nobu Restaurant, the world-renowned sushi restaurant founded by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Robert De Niro and Meir Teper in 1994, also will be on the ground floor and is anticipated to open summer of 2024, said Smith.
“Nobu is not only going to include a restaurant on the ground level, but two of our floors within the hotel will have a Nobu hotel,” Smith said. “So it’s almost a hotel within a hotel.”
Nobu is an international brand with just under 60 restaurants and more than 35 hotels worldwide, and it has been a longtime partner with Caesars Entertainment, said Smith. The Caesars New Orleans Nobu-branded hotel is going to be 54 total rooms, 42 of which are standard rooms and 12 that are suites. The average square footage of a room in the Nobu hotel is 415 square feet. The suites will have varying sizes depending on whether they are a two-bay or a five-bay, says Smith.
“We have a variety of different suite products that will be available ranging from two, three, four and then our penthouse will be a five-bay suite,” Smith explained. “When we think of the best of our brand, specifically the Caesars brand, Nobu has been a longtime partner of Caesars. We’ve got a Nobu hotel and a Nobu restaurant in Caesars Palace Las Vegas.”
He says the Nobu brand brings a global and “incredibly loyal” following “that is a bit of a younger, very hip, very cool” and so Caesars’ goal for those two floors “is to offer a differentiated concept than the other floors in the hotel.” The Nobu Hotel will offer a completely different architectural feel from the rest of the Caesars New Orleans hotel, Smith said. It will have its own check-in located on the second floor of the hotel and “offer a very different service model than the rest of the hotel.”
Caesars Entertainment announced the $325-million renovation investment in December 2020. Construction began in 2021 and Caesars Entertainment has accomplished an impressive feat — not shutting down operations of Harrah’s New Orleans while updating and transitioning for the 2024 conversion.
“As we take on those two large projects with the hotel and the casino, it’s a little unique that we are staying open through this massive, multi-year transformation; it’s almost in 24 different puzzle pieces where we would take a portion of the casino out of service and keep the other areas open,” said Smith. “With that, we’re constantly juggling different budgets and constantly juggling different projects depending upon what we learn once we begin to take those walls down and (begin) to make those improvements.”
As of Oct. 1, the venture has grown to a $435-million price tag, Smith said, a 34 percent increase. In a statement, Samir Mowad, senior vice president and general manager for Harrah’s New Orleans called the increased price tag evidence of the company’s commitment.
“Caesars Entertainment continues to be committed to the future of New Orleans and Louisiana,” Mowad said. “The significant increase from $325 million to $435 million to our capital investment is a testament to that belief. We will continue to do our part to make our city a world class destination filled with first-class amenities.”
The company’s operating contract expires in 2054 based on its 30-year extension, Smith said. Currently, the renovation has in excess of 600 construction workers on the entire project, Smith said.
At project completion, the Caesars Hotel front desk for both the Caesars tower as well as the Nobu Hotel is going to be located on the second floor of the hotel. That floor will also have a very small retail and coffee presence and a lobby bar that will have windows that overlook the Mississippi River on the second floor.
On the first floor, as customers enter through the main entrance which is the valet entrance off of Convention Center Blvd. across from the Canal St. Ferry terminal, they will be greeted to a “lavish Caesars lobby at the ground level with a statue of Caesar and then two escalators that lead up to the second floor to check in, whereas the first level will be gaming space as it is today,” described Smith. A conceptual change in the dining space from previous Harrah’s iterations is that Nobu and Emeril’s Brasserie will both be available to the general public including those under the age of 21.
When it transitions to Caesars New Orleans, the casino will be a flagship within the Caesars Entertainment brand, a concept that means luxurious but approachable, said Smith.
“We’ve got a portfolio of different flags including Planet Hollywood, Paris, Harrah’s, Horseshoe, World Series of Poker and as we associate this property in downtown New Orleans — given our location at the foot of Canal Street, and given our investment into the city and state — we want to attach our brand, our best brand, to this property,” Smith said. “Including in that obviously with our two hotel towers: the pedestrian streetscape of Fulton Street that has Ruth’s Chris, Gordon Biersch (Brewery Restaurant), Grand Isle, Mannings, Fulton Alley, Emeril’s Brasserie, the Food Hall we talked about, our new 340-room tower, also the Fillmore, and then we have gone public that we are working with (U.S. theater company) Spiegelworld, which is a show that is in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to bring a whole new entertainment experience that will also take place on the second floor of the hotel.”
Looking forward to the summer 2024 completion date means looking into the sun of many high-profile events for New Orleans that hit around September of 2024, winding toward Super Bowl LIX on Feb. 9, 2025.
“Not just with the 2025 Super Bowl…the Sugar Bowl Country Kickoff will take place on Labor Day weekend, followed by Saints season, (New Orleans) Pelicans season in the fall of 2024, Taylor Swift (Oct. 25-27, 2024) which will be a Super Bowl of sorts for entertainment, especially given the fact that it’s going to go on for three separate nights,” said Smith. “Then in 2025 with Super Bowl…that is an event that we’ll look at for the next decade and see as a high point for all of us in the tourism business. All of this was specifically timed not just based upon what we talked about earlier with our license renewal, but we’re in a race to get this done prior to all of those events that I mentioned plus the Super Bowl because everyone in the tourism community understands the potential that those events offer us.”