Saturday, March 08, 2008

Hotel Hotwire: Deciphering the Deal Between Stephen Starr and The Sofitel (and What It Means For Philadelphia)

The rounded bar at the Sofitel, La Bourse, in the renovated stock exchange building.Our post last week about Stephen Starr’s involvement with The Chelsea — the boutique hotel project in Atlantic City — got us to thinking about his upcoming partnership with The Sofitel Philadelphia.

Starr has signed a letter of intent to take over operation of the Sofitel’s restaurant (currently Chez Collette) and its lobby bar and lounge (La Bourse, [above via the New York Times]). The deal is not official, but it nevertheless suggests certain calculated movements in the city’s hotel industry.

So we’re going to offer a little analysis about what this means for Philadelphia and said hotel / hospitality industry.

First, some background.

Ever since 2004 or so, Stephen Starr has had hotels on the mind, in varying degrees and concepts… from opening his own independent boutique hotel here in Philadelphia or New York to doing the main restaurants at hotels like the W, the Chelsea or, indeed, the Sofitel.

In 2005, the Starr Restaurant Organization formally created its Starr Restaurant Hotel Group which has been fairly aggressively pursuing opportunities for hotel projects ever since. The results are impressive.

1. The restaurant at the W Fort Lauderdale, to be a sibling steakhouse to Barclay Prime.
2. Two restaurants at The Chelsea, another Prime sibling and Teplitsky’s
3. The main restaurant at the W Philadelphia, set to open in 2010
4. The Sofitel Restaurant and Lobby Bar, concept and timing TBA.
5. A potential restaurant at the W South Beach (Miami) Condos + Hotel

So it’s likely that SRO is becoming more appealing to hoteliers since a) they are no longer greenhorns in the biz and b) they continue to have a track record of success with their non-hotel restaurants.

So bully for them, we guess.

Ok, now let’s look at the specifics of the prospective project at the Sofitel Philadelphia.

First, we probably should come out and say it… The Sofitel is Philadelphia’s best hotel.

Don’t look so surprised.

The ultra-friendly service is pretty close to impeccable. The location is perfect. Seriously. Great for basing a stay in the Illy. Bustling corner. Nice block of 17th with trees. Center of Rittenhouse. And with the Kimpton set to open a new hotel property across the street, the corner of 17th and Sansom is only going to get doper.

The Sofitel at 17th and Sansom is among a number of hotels in a re-energized Philadelphia that have brought a new sense of style to the city.Also, the Sofitel is rated #1 out of 77 Philadelphia hotels on Trip Advisor for a reason. Sure, the Four Seasons and the Rittenhouse Hotel are fancier, but really, they’re not exactly cool. And it’s not like we’re their target demographic. (If we are, it’s their bad because they certainly haven’t made us feel that way.)

And as anyone who’s ever had friends visit from out of town knows, the only place to recommend for them to stay is the Sofitel. It’s simply cooler than anything else Philadelphia has to offer.

The Ritz is fine. So is the Park Hyatt.

But the Sofitel combines all of it assets best and comes out clearly on top: the service, the location, the style, the rooms, the beds, the price, la bourse, et al.

Ok, that said, what about this deal… If they’re already #1, why hire Starr?

Well, honestly, because Philadelphia’s hotels are finally getting cooler and the Sofitel is finally going to have some competition in this regard.

The Ritz Carlton is getting Eric Ripert to open a new restaurant in its awesome Rotunda.

Kimpton is opening two properties in the city (thank Christmas) — one of which, as mentioned above, will be directly across the street from the Sofitel in the Architects Building. The Park Hyatt has its relatively new XIX, which, while still a little under-the-radar for most, nevertheless boasts a pretty great bar and lounge.

Then there’s the forthcoming W Philadelphia, which is going to bring its brand’s reputation plus a Stephen Starr restaurant; the forthcoming Le Meridien, which has a European-inspired influence like the Sofitel (and is on a slightly higher tier); and the inevitable independent boutique hotels that are sure to open in Center City and the surrounding nabes in the next year or two. The first of which could be a Bart Blatstein/Tower Development production at Second and Poplar in NoLibs.

(If there is one thing we are surprised about regarding this deal, it’s that it means that SRO was saavy enough to not have non-compete clauses included in his contract with Starwood, the Sofitel, etc. because his restaurants and bars are obviously going to be competing with each other for business. But, ideally, they’ll be plenty of business to go around…)

Moreover, the Sofitel brand in general is moving into the luxury end or the market.

Their Philadelphia property is already there
at least in our minds at least in awesomeness.

The lobby bar and lounge, La Bourse, is currently a gem — that, like XIX, is kinda off the radar of most locals — for a laid-back drink after work or a few relaxing cocktails a little later in the evening. We’ll almost be sad to see it go. But we’re comforted by the fact that the greater good will be served.

Because a vibrant dining and nightlife scene are critical to a strong hospitality industry. And Philadelphia needs to continue to nurture its strong hospitality industry if it wants the city’s overall resurgence to continue. The relation between it and new residents and new businesses is symbiotic. Additional visitors will draw new residents. (And vice versa.) And more businesses too. If the city appeals to visitors, it will be a desirable place to live and work as well.

As for Chez Colette, the Sofitel’s three-diamond restaurant, we have had a few delicious meals there over the years. We haven’t been in a while, but it certainly held its own in the past. (And again, excellent, uber-friendly service. And by the French no less!?!)

So, again, it might be sad to some of its regulars to see it go, however the prospect of bringing a new, original Starr concept to the space is too appealing to really get all that choked up about it.

Because Starr teaming up with the Sofitel is just plain good for the hospitality industry here. It will only incite further investment from other existing hotels and, ideally, even make Philadelphia more appealing and ripe to new hotels considering entering the fray.

So Steve-O, SRO and Sofitel: go ahead and finalize that deal. We’re looking forward to seeing what you all cook up.

We do, however, expect it to be something special. Don’t disappoint.

Starr in the Sofitel [ Food and Drinq ]
Starr expands to hotels [ Philadelphia Business Journal ]
The Sofitel Philadelphia [ Official Site ]

1 comment:

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