Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What’s next for Starr? Toppling Starwood?

It’s a readily known fact that for all the buzz Philadelphia’s been getting lately (Nat. Geographic, NY Times, Jaunted, etc.), one thing tourists sorely miss is any semblance of a sophisticated boutique hotel scene.

Center City certainly boasts a few decent independent hotels [and the Rittenhouse Hotel is obviously ridiculously nice, however, we're talking about small hotels that are going to win points for their cosmopolitan attention to style and design], but there’s definitely nothing remotely significant — as far as contemporary style — about Philly hotels.
Clip 1:
[ As urban destinations go, Philadelphia still has some flaws. Most notably, it lacks an inventory of stylish, fun places to stay. Purveyors of urban chic such as Kimpton Hotels have yet to touch down, leaving visitors with few choices for lodging other than chains. ] USA Today

Clip 2:
[ Where to stay: Philadlephia doesn't have a trendy boutique hotel scene - yet. But older hotels are refurbishing, and the best have discovered style. ] New York Times
We guess both of those articles infer that’s it’s only a matter of time before the stylish, boutique hotels arrive. Ok. We're waiting. We’ve been waiting.

There’s literally a thousand new high-end condo projects being planned across Center City and so far none are planning hotels as part of the mixed uses of their buildings — a popular strategy these days. Developers are completely missing the ball here. This city could sustain multiple cool, chic hotels for the young and spend-happy. Why aren’t any sprightly entrepreneurs trying to get rich by filling this void?

We’ve been troubled by this missed opportunity (or, as USA Today would say, flaw) for some time now, so naturally we were extremely pleased when we recently came across this PBJ article:
[ It's no coincidence that [Stephen] Starr hired financial people with hotel experience. Within two years, he said, he hopes his company will be in the hotel business, both bidding on contracts to run the food and beverage side of existing hotels and by opening at least one boutique hotel in Philadelphia. … "Ultimately, I would like to be in the hotel business," Starr said, adding that hotel operations will have to be consistent with the restaurants' sense of distinctiveness. "It won't be a Holiday Inn." ] Phila Business Journal
That’s right ladies. The catalyst of Philadelphia’s restaurant renaissance, Stephen Starr, will try to do the same for its hotels. He wants to bring a stylish boutique hotel to the city that’s starving for one. “Hallelujah” seems a bit dramatic. And premature... the article is two years old.

Compound that with the very-behind-schedule openings (
read more than a year) of the Morimoto and Buddakan NYC outposts and we can conclude that it’s all just talk for now. Until those restaurants establish themselves as successes (early reports on Morimoto seem to be positive: 1, 2, 3), we won’t be holding our breath for Starr to open a hotel here in the new future.

That notwithstanding, someone needs to remind Stephen of his '04 aspirations from. Philly needs a cool hotel and time is a wasting.

UPDATE: Starwood strikes back
from Friday's Inky (see last line):
[ [Wayne] Spilove, a real estate investor who was the city's ranking historic preservation official at the time of the demolition, has been in talks with Sant Properties of Huntingdon Valley to sell his lot on the 1600 block of Sansom Street. But one of Sant's owners, Hardeep Chawla, said the deal had to be put on hold because Sant was unable to acquire the bigger prize, the slender art deco tower known as the Architects Building on the corner of 17th Street. Sant's plan was to convert the office tower into a W Hotel or condos. ] Phila. Inquirer
Oh snap. A W Hotel across the street from the Sofitel? The Battle of the Bulge to resurface on 17th Street.

Awesome.

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