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One Shell Square in New Orleans will become Hancock Whitney Center in 2018

One Shell Square, the 51-story building that occupies an entire block of New Orleans’ Central Business District, has carried the name of the oil company since it first welcomed workers in 1972. That will change next year when Hancock-Whitney moves out of its regional headquarters and rebrands the building.

Some 400 bank employees will move from a 106-year-old building just down St. Charles Avenue to seven floors in the tallest building in Louisiana (697 feet), which will then be called the Hancock Whitney Center. The space became available this year after Shell decided to consolidate some of its office space in the tower, which has housed various segments of its business for nearly five decades.

“Hancock Holding Co. and Whitney Bank are making a long-term commitment to the local community and economy with this move, and it is a win-win for our city, our clients, and our company,” Whitney Bank President Joe Exnicios said in a statement. “It gives us a more efficient and usable space to provide better services and products, and it gives us room to grow.”

Shell will still be the building’s largest tenant, though it will now occupy 18 floors of the building its employees once filled. The company has cut its local workforce from about 2,300 to 1,400 over the past two years, part of global staff reductions spurred by low oil prices.

Rick Tallant, general manager of Shell’s assets in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, said the company is not reducing staff in New Orleans. He said the company has learned to do more with less space.

Giving up naming rights to the building Shell once built and owned is tough, but Tallant said the company is committed to running efficiently and keeping jobs in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Shell is not a name on a building,” Tallant said. “It’s the people who work here.”

What will happen to Whitney’s current headquarters?

Exnicios said the company will consider selling the building “to transform the legacy facility into a magnificent symbol of the growing New Orleans economy.” He didn’t elaborate on possible future uses for the building he would deem suitable.

The most probable conversion would involve a residential use with ground floor retail, following a trend set at comparable historic office buildings throughout downtown. Two blocks away, the 21-story Hibernia Bank Building was remodeled for apartments that went on the market four years ago.

Whitney’s physical roots have moved little since its founding in 1883. It was situated at 619 Gravier St. in 1888 and built its current headquarters on an adjacent property at 228 St. Charles Ave., moving in 1911.

This past year has seen some of Whitney’s most significant growth since Mississippi-based Hancock acquired the New Orleans institution. In December, it took over nine branches of First NBC Bank and received the remaining 29 when the company failed in May. Most have been consolidated with nearby Whitney locations or closed.

As for Shell, Tallant said the New Orleans office continues to support offshore oil and gas developments not just in the Gulf of Mexico, but in places as far away as Nigeria and Brazil. Technology has made it possible to do bigger jobs, in more places in less time and with smaller teams, he said.

Tallant added parent Royal Dutch Shell, which reported recent success generating cash despite the prolonged energy downturn, continues to invest in the Gulf of Mexico and in New Orleans. (The company has committed to sponsoring the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival through 2019.)

“We are committed to New Orleans,” Tallant said. “This is home to us.”

In addition to moving offices, Hancock Whitney intends to open a “financial center” on the second-story lobby of its new home base. The space is currenty occupied by Xplore Federal Credit Union, which was the Shell New Orleans Federal Credit Union before a 2013 rebranding. Xplore will relocate to a space on the lobby’s first floor.

Hancock Whitney is also keeping some 320 operations and technology employees at its lakefront offices at the University of New Orleans.

Hancock Whitney will rent its space from Hertz Investment Group, the Los Angeles real estate company that added One Shell Square to its New Orleans portfolio in June 2015.

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reporter Jennifer Larino contributed to this report.

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