Renovation of former Michaul’s will restore building to 1950s style
The New Orleans Advocate will be moving to a new office on St. Charles Avenue that will triple the size of its newsroom and advertising offices.
The newspaper intends to take over a 23,000-square-foot former car dealership turned dance hall at 840 St. Charles Ave. and restore an iconic storefront into a community gathering place.
The move to an office with a storefront on New Orleans’ signature avenue is part of the newspaper’s commitment to continue growing in the city, said John Georges, the paper’s owner.
“I think it makes a big statement,” Georges said. “We didn’t just want to be in some office building without our own identity.”
The newspaper will move into about one-third of the mid-20th-century building’s 17,500-square-foot first floor. The space will accommodate more than 55 employees. The New Orleans Advocate now employs about 35 full-time journalists and advertising staff.
The building’s original showroom, which can be viewed from the street, will be converted into a foyer that can hold as many as 100 people and will double as a place to host cultural exhibitions, book signings and other events, Georges said.
Several hundred people will be able to fit into the building’s adjacent assembly space, which will be made available for rent to the public. The design also calls for a commercial kitchen and a coffee shop fronting St. Charles Avenue.
The building also has a second floor that could eventually house offices for Georges Media Group.
“We are optimistic about the future,” said Dan Shea, the newspaper’s general manager and chief operating officer. “New Orleans has made it clear that it wants a seven-day, home-delivered newspaper. Subscribers have invested in us, and this building is giving something back.”
Georges said he wants to build not just a newspaper office but a space where the community can gather.
“I think, historically, newspapers are not a very welcoming place,” he said. “So we hope to be very welcoming. We want it to be a New Orleans thing, not some corporate thing.”
Georges and his wife, Dathel Georges, bought the building for $1.63 million in September with plans to turn it into a museum honoring Greek culture.
But before that plan could come together, the newspaper had outgrown its 1,500-square-foot office at 329 Baronne St. The New Orleans Advocate is one of the few newspapers in the United States whose circulation is growing, and in the past year, its staffing has more than quadrupled.
“Building our own news and business office is the next step in our development,” Shea said. “Owning, not renting, shows our commitment to the city.”
“As the locally owned daily newspaper, we are committed to relentlessly listening to our readers,” said the paper’s editor, Peter Kovacs. “Now we will have a prominent location so they’ll know where to find us. This is a clear message that The New Orleans Advocate plans to be around for the long haul.”
The newspaper will continue to be printed in Baton Rouge, where it owns one of the newest newspaper production plants in the country. Baton Rouge will remain the headquarters of Capital City Press, which also publishes The Advocate for metro Baton Rouge and The Acadiana Advocate.
The move of The New Orleans Advocate to St. Charles Avenue will not impact the size of the Baton Rouge staff.
The St. Charles Avenue structure was erected in the early 1950s for Klein Motors, which sold cars made by the Kaiser-Frazer Corp. The building was remodeled in the 1970s and in its most recent use was Michaul’s, a dance hall and restaurant that was popular as a place to watch Carnival parades. Michaul’s closed last summer after its owner died.
Project architect Tore Wallin, of Mayo Wallin Architectural Studio LLC, said he intends to restore the building to its mid-century architectural style.
“We found out that the dealership looked really good when it was first built,” Wallin said. “I’m really excited about it because it’s very rare right now in New Orleans. A lot of these mid-century buildings have been replaced.”
Georges said he hopes construction on the building will begin after Mardi Gras and conclude in late summer.