Ribbon Cutting Marks Restoration of the Historic Southern Hotel

30 May 2014

In a ceremonial ribbon cutting held on Friday, May 30th, the historic Southern Hotel reopened in downtown Covington. NOLA.com highlights the events and speeches of the reopening and what it means for Covington’s future.

Ribbon Cutting Marks Multimillion-Dollar Restoration of Historic Covington Hotel

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

30 May 2014

By Bob Warren, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

North shore historian Howard Nichols recalled his first experience with the Southern Hotel on Boston Street in downtown Covington. It was in the late 1940s, and his parents would take him there for dinner on Sundays.

It wasn’t the food — he doesn’t even remember the food — it was the setting. The elegance of the dining room told Nichols, even as a child, that the hotel was something special.

“It was a big deal,’‘ Nichols, a retired history professor from Southeastern Louisiana University, said. “Everybody was there. It was always a big occasion.’‘

But over the years the hotel faded. And after the hotel closed in the 1960s, the site took on a number of other uses. It had mostly been vacant in recent years.

But with a flourish of speeches and the snip of a ceremonial ribbon on a rainy Friday morning, the old hotel was formally reborn. The renovated Southern Hotel, a cadre of speakers said, not only represents a community preserving its history but one looking to the future.

“This hotel sets elevated standards for our times, as did the old, iconic hotel when it opened in 1907,’‘ Nichols told the crowd.

Lisa Condrey Ward, one of the hotel’s owners and a driving force behind its renovation, noted one of Winston Churchill’s famous quotes — “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us” — in thanking everyone who helped push through the renovation.

“We’re not just celebrating our past, but we are creating and securing our future,’‘ she said.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne applauded Ward and her family for recognizing the historical value of the building and the courage to invest the resources required to restore it to prominence.

St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister said the Southern Hotel will again be the place people associate with milestones — first dates, weddings, good times. “It will once again become a place where memories are made,’‘ she said.

Ward and her family members purchased the hotel in 2011 for $1.75 million and began extensive renovations. The hotel has 42 guest rooms (roughly the same number as when it first opened in 1907), a 2,400-square-foot ballroom, meeting space, a fine-dining restaurant, an upscale bar, a courtyard and pool and fitness rooms. The lobby and various rooms are filled with paintings, sculptures and historical photographs of Covington.

The hotel will begin taking reservations June 15, but some rooms might be available to walk-in guests starting next week, officials said. Friday’s ribbon-cutting was the first of a weekend full of events tied to the reopening. A gala will be held Saturday night and a champagne reception will be held Sunday. The gala and champagne reception require tickets.

As many Covington residents got their first look at the restored hotels during the open house following the ribbon-cutting, Covington Mayor Mike Cooper held forth on what the hotel could mean for downtown Covington. Since renovation work began, city officials have touted the hotel’s ability to be a catalyst to tourism and development downtown.

Cooper, who grew up in Covington, recalls as a boy meeting his father for coffee at a cafe that opened at the site of the hotel. Later, when it became home to a Rexall drugstore, Cooper would visit the drugstore soda fountain. Finally, when the well-known bar Tugy’s was on the site, Cooper remembered walking in for a cold one in his adult years.

“People will come and eat in our restaurants, shop at our shops and participate in everything we have to offer in Covington,’‘ said Cooper, who had also addressed the crowd earlier.

But Ward made sure those on hand know the Southern Hotel isn’t just for tourists.

STAYcation,’‘ she told the crowd before she snipped the ribbon, emphasizing the word “stay.’‘ “We’re all on the same page with that, right?’‘

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