Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hotel Hotwire: Winners and Losers, Boom Edition

So a flurry of new hotels would have you believe that they wish to grace Philadelphia with their presence.

Does this mean the Philadelphia hotel scene is finally going to catch up with the rest of the city and start being cool?

It could.

But it definitely means it’s time for us to we weigh in on the plans.

So without further ado.

- Aloft Philadelphia. We first caught wind of Aloft, the first of three Starwood properties on their way to city, back in ’06. At that time, we had a few qualms with their location choice at Philadelphia International. We have a little more information now. Aloft’s business model actually dictates that it locates its hotels near airports whenever possible (doing as much in Chicago, DC region, Mass, etc.).

Fine, but Aloft adjusted the model when it wanted to move into a market that was more urban — Aloft Brooklyn will be located downtown. That’s exactly what should have happened in Philadelphia. Starwood definitely dropped the ball putting Aloft Philadelphia at the airport. That location adds pretty much nothing to the city or the visitor experience.

Sure the hotel might do fine economically with its airport locale, but it could have done so much more with a Center City location. (Midtown Village to be exact.) It could have been a positive addition to the city and actual active participant in Philly’s buzzing night scene. But, alas, Starwood didn’t have the vision to realize as much and Philadelphia now has one more cookie cutter hotel for culturally-challenged travelers to enjoy
nice and close to the beautiful Philadelphia Airport.

Bravo, Starwood. Bravo.

Verdict: LOSER. Giant. Effing. Loser.

- But wait. That’s only one of three Starwood properties headed to Philly proper. Don’t count them out just yet.

The next Starwood project slated to open here is the W Philadelphia
two renderings of which appear above. The W was also announced last summer after years of rumors about a W coming to town, in places like Headhouse Square. So when Starwood finally announced plans for the W Philadelphia and that it had selected 12th and Arch as the location, eyebrows were raised.

And many (we among them) began to second-guess the competence of the Real Estate Development Group at Starwood. Sure, the location is right next to the Convention Center, which is great for convention/business travel, but doesn’t the W want to be more hip than corporate. Wouldn’t a location where there’s a little more nighttime activity make more sense for the W?? 12th and Arch gets kinda quiet after 5 p.m.

For that reason, rumors persisted after the announcement that the W was reconsidering its location choice, trying to find a location “closer to to younger demographic it seeks.” But local parking titan, Joe Zuritsky, dug in deep and Starwood was convinced to move ahead with situating the W on his lot at 12th and Arch.

Starwood has procured Stephen Starr to do the restaurant. So maybe he can help. Projected opening: sometime in 2009. They were supposed to break ground this summer. Then it was this fall. Not sure if they actually have yet.

Verdict: Neutral. The W Philadelphia will surely be successful. (And a good addition to the city.) But we could easily, off the top of our heads, name a half-dozen downtown locations at which it would be considerably more successful. (Bang-up job so far, Starwood Development Group.)

- Starwood’s third property headed to the City of Brotherly Love? That would be one of their Le Meridien brand.

Le Meridien Philadelphia will be going into the old YMCA building on the 1400 block of Arch Street. We first told you about a hotel going in there back in April when the building was sold. The lobby and floors 5-10 will be the hotel’s. The building is historic and a prime candidate for a reclamation project. It’s like 50 feet from Love Park and will be less than a block away from the new main entrance of the Convention Center on Broad after it expands.

Projected opening: 2009.

Verdict: Winner. This could be amazing if done well. And help North Broad's rebirth.

UPDATE: Today, 12.4, details were announced.
The 202-room hotel will offer five floors of 4-star accommodations, a 90-seat restaurant with a 30-seat bar and lounge at the lobby level, a state-of-the-art business centre, 5,300 square feet of technology-enhanced meeting space, and a grand ballroom, which will be located on the third floor and feature dramatic views of Philadelphia’s architecturally striking City Hall, three blocks away. The hotel also will feature a central atrium courtyard on the fifth floor of the historic building, boasting a skylight at the crown of its 75-foot ceiling. [ Yahoo ]
Bueno. Although it won't be complete until 2010.

- Stephen Starr's Micro Hotel. Some of you may remember when we were making a big stink about Stephen Starr trying to renege on his self-professed desire to open a boutique hotel in Philadelphia.

So why, after we heard about him actually doing one at 706 Chestnut Street, didn’t we make a bigger deal about it?

Because it’s a frickin’ four-room micro “hotel.” That is not what we were talking about when we said Starr should keep his word and open a hotel in the illy. Sure, at least it’s something. But a four-suite micro hotel doesn’t really do anything to address the massive dearth of cool, independent, designer boutique hotels we have here in Philadelphia.

Oh, great. He's working with Taavo Somer on the design. Super. That doesn’t make up for the fact that it will have all of four rooms. It’s simply too small. A place this size will have no lobby scene or hotel restaurant. (Yes, there will be the restaurant on the first floor in the space that most recently held Angelina, but that was going to be a restaurant anyway. Also designed by Taavo.)

But beggars should not be choosers, right? Admittedly, Starr adding this hotel to Philly’s offerings is definitely a win for the city. We just wish it were going to be a bigger win. Like 10 to 20 times bigger.

A legitimate independent boutique hotel with at least 40 rooms is, however, still very much needed in Philadelphia. Starr gets a pass with this project. We’ll let him get his feet wet with this little mini-endeavor. Hopefully, it will boost his confidence so in a year or so, he’ll be serious about adding a “/hotelier” to his “restaurateur” status and be ready to develop an actual boutique hotel. You know, one with more than, like, four rooms. (It doesn’t even need to be new construction — there are tons of buildings ripe for conversion.)

Verdict: Winner. But not a very exciting one at that. We will take it. We’re just a little disappointed Starr went with a micro boutique hotel instead of a legit boutique hotel. Hopefully, it's only an apéritif.

- Let’s see — what’s next? How about Stephen Starr’s old rival, Mr. Neil Stein? We’ve discussed Mr. Stein’s hotel dreams in the past. He wanted (wants) a hotel project of his own, but he may have to wait on that. Last month, Dan Gross reported that Stein was working on a potential project with the Morris House Hotel, a five-year-old, 16-room boutique hotel on South 8th Street in the historic Morris residence. The project is two part: 1) do a restaurant in first floor of the hotel, where Restaurant M opened in ‘06 and closed in ‘07; and 2) expand the hotel into another building on the same block.

Verdict: Winner. The outdoor dining/drinking area at the Morris House could easily become a hotspot. And make the hotel a little cooler by association.

- And finally, we have the Kimpton Group. Kimpton appears to have been tipped off to the fact that Philadelphia is fucking ripe for some cool hotel properties — and they want to fill the void. We hear that Kimpton is currently looking at three historic buildings to convert into Kimpton Hotels.

And, apparently, whomever the Kimpton Group has running their Real Estate Development Group is a lot more proficient than their counterparts over at Starwood. Because the three buildings they’re looking at are all hot shit.

The first, which Michael Klein reported last week, is in the Architects Building at 17th and Sansom.

This is, without a doubt, going to be the coolest project of any on the horizon — present company included. The location is a ten. The W passed on this location and their loss has turned into Kimpton’s gain. With the Sofitel already holding it down across the street, this block of 17th Street is destined to be the place where all the cool kids want to stay when they come to town.

Moreover, the Architects building is sick. And Kimpton is working with the Heritage Consulting Group to restore and convert the space. So expect the hotel to be awesome. We certainly do.

The other two locations Kimpton is working on are behind the new Comcast Center (with a totally rad green roof) and on Independence Mall respectively.

Verdict: WINNER. Huge. Effing. Winner. Well done, Kimpton. We are happy to have you in our fine city. Please do plan to stay a while.

UPDATE: No sooner had we posted about the hotel boom in Center City then we heard of another hotel, this one proposed for University City. (Via Philly Skyline and one of our astute commenters).

Hilton Homewood Suites Philadelphia — at 40th and Pine. (Rendered above, from Pine Street.)

Verdict: WINNER. The four-block 40th Street corridor, from Chestnut at the north and Pine on the south, is a veritable destination these days. There is the Hub, which will soon have Chilango; Fresh Grocer; The Bridge, Marathon Grill and MarBar; Smokey Joe’s; The Greek Lady; Copabana (oh, poor Billy Bob’s…), etc.

Inevitably, there are a few NIMBYs who are complaining that the location is too residential. They are wrong. The 3900 and 4000 blocks of Pine, Delancey, Spruce, and Baltimore are predominantly occupied by students. Students like vibrancy on the street, so the more pedestrians, the better.

“Of the 50 properties [closest to the proposed] the location, added Lussenhop, only one is owned by an individual; the remaining are owned by commercial landlords and Penn.”

It is a great hotel for the location. It gives people visiting Penn another option to stay at other than the Inn at Penn, and the Sheraton. Moreover, University City is burgeoning with young residents that aren’t even affiliated with Penn.

Moreover, the building design is sensitive to the historic nature of the block. Sure, it’s not an uber-hip, designer hotel — but that’s more than ok. [ UC Review ]

- If you’re looking for a hip boutique hotel in an outer neighborhood, look east, toward Northern Liberties. Bart Blatstein wants to build a boutique hotel in Northern Liberties, catercorner to Standard Tap. (Hat tip to Philly Skyline, again.)

Verdict: WINNER. Obviously. Second Street is hot. Sure, a few die hard Northern Liberties preservationists may want to see their neighborhood never change, but that’s what city’s do. They change. And the trick is to get them to change for the better
— to progress and improve. That’s what good city planning and urban design can accomplish.


Adrienne said...

Interesting article, well done and thank you.

On a sidenote, why are hotels so sparse on the Main Line? Eh, maybe because everyone but me has mansions.

kimpton fan said...

I know kimpton is moving along on the 17th street hotel, but I had no idea there were two more planned...any details???

Andrew said...

It's not center city, but there's an interesting hotel project in the works out here in West Philly at 40th and Pine. It's a bit controversial because it'd be considerably taller than its immediate neighborhood. It's a Hilton flagged operation and would be built adjoining a restored historic Italianate mansion that would have some hotel rooms and be the main entrance. The UC Review has done most of the reporting on it.

Wash West Resident said...

Why not have one of the companies do something with the shuttered Inn on Locust at the intersection of 13th and Locust Streets? Or better yet, tear town the old signatures building and put a hotel there. That could help eliminate some of the creepy people in that hood and clean it up.

CC Broker said...

Referring to the W site.....Where are the "half-dozen downtown locations at which it could be consiserably more successful."