Marriott unveils new $8.5M look for lobby, restaurant January 14, 2008 Share 1 -- The New Orleans Marriott unveiled a new lobby and restaurant, renovated for $8.5 million as part of a $38 million hotel redo that began in 2005.The lobby now boasts a new lounge; revamped front desk, with self check-in kiosks; new bell and concierge stands; additional floor space; a modernized decor; and a Starbucks Coffee outlet. The hotel restaurant, 5 Fifty 5, now has improved interiors, expanded seating, a private-function room and a revamped menu combining New Orleans, Cajun, French and Creole cuisine in a "unique grill concept" lead by executive chef Mark Quitney.For more information on the New Orleans Marriott, call (866) 530-3763 or visit www.neworleans.marriott.com.Hotel group names leaderThe Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association named Ashish Verma, general manager of the Windsor Court Hotel, its president for 2008. The Windsor Court, an Orient-Express property, was one of the first hotels to reopen after Hurricane Katrina. Credited with speeding the hotel's recovery efforts, Verma devised its annual Windsor Court Awards of Excellence for contributions to a "Better New Orleans."The association also named Mavis Early its first full-time executive director. Early is a local lawyer.St. Charles streetcar back on trackNew Orleans' historical St. Charles Avenue streetcars are rumbling the length of the Big Easy thoroughfare for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.An uptown stretch of the route, from Napoleon Avenue to the end of St. Charles Avenue, better known as Riverbend, reopened just before Christmas. Streetcars had been operating from Canal Street, adjacent to the French Quarter, to Napoleon since early November; service on the final stretch of the line, along South Carrollton Avenue, is expected to resume in the spring.The St. Charles line, which opened in 1835, is part of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. Visit www.norta.com for fares, schedules and stops.Jazz Fest restores Thursday sessionThe New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival reinstated the Thursday session on its second weekend, restoring the run to its pre-Katrina length of seven days. The 2008 Jazz Fest dates are April 25 to 27 and May 1 to 4.The Neville Brothers joined Tim McGraw and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly in confirming performances at this year's festival. For more, visit www.nojazzfest.com.Condotel on tapConstruction of Louisiana's first condo-hotel, the 131-room Royal Cosmopolitan, is set to begin early this year.The $50 million renovation of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in the French Quarter is the first hotel project to break ground in New Orleans since 2005.A new 26-story tower, set back to preserve the integrity of the streetscape, will add 107 condominium suites to the 24 guest rooms of the 19th century hotel. The hotel will have a rooftop lounge, restaurant and infinity pool.Kenneth Kiesnoski is Travel Weekly's Destinations Editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.