Developer Steve Poe has yet another major project underway, and this one could prove to be a major challenge to 21C Museum Hotels.
Louisville-based Poe Companies is developing an Aloft Hotel at the corner of First and Main streets across from Whiskey Row, a project he estimates at $25 million. The 8-story contemporary boutique hotel will encompass about 100,000 square feet and have 175 rooms.
In addition to another distinctive building on Louisville’s downtown skyline, an Aloft Hotel — a flag of the upscale Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide chain — potentially adds a stratum of traveler Louisville lacks.
“I’ve been trying to bring the Starwood brand to Main Street for eight years,” Poe said in an interview this morning. “Starwood is an innovator.” Other Starwood brands include W and Westin.
“They have the most loyal — not the biggest — the most loyal frequent guest program in the world,” he said. “We’d planned to put a W Hotel in Museum Plaza (planned at Sixth and Main), but of course those plans were interrupted.”
The brand is aimed at a younger, sophisticated audience, and the veteran hotel developer sees the brand attracting an entirely new audience to the downtown conventioneer and transient business traveler. “Adding that brand to downtown will attract an upscale traveler: Cool, hip people,” Poe said.
Which, of course, is the target audience for 21C Museum Hotels, six blocks west at Seventh and Main streets. But Poe said the Aloft rack rate — the no-discount room rate — will be less than 21C, aimed more at travelers who at least have to consider a budget.
Travel blogs and magazines seem to bear Poe out, with Conde Nast Traveler rating the Aloft concept — a more affordable version of Starwood’s elite W brand — as affordably cool:
A diffusion line of W Hotels, Aloft has been a big hit in Harlem and Brooklyn – and now the finishing touches are being put to Aloft London ExCel, set to launch on 15 November. The chain is adopting a similar model for its first venture in London: a good-value, contemporary hotel aimed at a young and sociable crowd.
“This is a win for Louisville,” said Jim Wood, president and CEO of the Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Adding the Aloft brand really helps our image as a destination as we sell Louisville to conventions … and to business and leisure travelers.”
Poe Companies is the developer along with REI Real Estate Services, based in Indianapolis. Poe Companies and REI will own the hotel, and the operator will be White Lodging, based in Merrillville, Ind., outside of Chicago. PFVS, based in Atlanta, is the architect.
Poe said the Aloft building will be Louisville’s first LEED-certified hotel for energy efficiency.
Plans call for the hotel to have a first-floor lobby/registration area, meeting space and the brand’s trademark W XYZ bar, all in about 5,000 square feet.
Room floors three through eight will have 25 rooms each configured in 10,700 square feet.
Poe’s goal is to have the Aloft hotel open by Derby Day 2015.
“We’ve been on this for about seven months, so we’re to the point now we’re hoping to get through everything we need to get through to get started,” he said.
The vacated Marine Electric building on the site will be demolished. The company closed in late 2011, sitting vacant for two years.
The 14,000-square-foot complex, the address of which is 102 W. Main St., was listed for sale this summer at $1.1 million. IL sources confirmed several developers looked at the property in late 2012. Poe said he took an option on the property in March.
An Aloft hotel “is a perfect fit for that area, he said. “It’s a nice stroll to NuLu, to the urban bourbon stops. Yum Center is right there. We like Main Street. We like what’s going on in downtown. We like the Yum Center. We like everything going on there.
“We think it’s a great brand at the right location.”
Poe added he sees the brand’s young, fit demographic making the most of the location by jogging down to Waterfront Park, then spending the evening at Main Street attractions, including the increasing number of area restaurants. (Alofts do not have restaurants.)
Poe has developed multiple downtown hotels, including the 600-room Marriott Downtown at Third and Jefferson streets. With the addition of the 175 Aloft rooms, the company will have built 1,600 hotel rooms in eight Louisville hotels during the past eight years.
Poe’s announcement comes at a time when a number of hotels are under development or planned, including the conversion of the former Stewart’s department store/Hilliard Lyons Center at Fourth and Muhammad Ali into a 286-room Embassy Suites Hotel, and construction of Bill Weyland’s new 162-room Hilton Garden Inn at Fourth and Chestnut.
The announcement also comes at a time when downtown hotels have left behind The Great Recession.
“The numbers bear that out. The rate and occupancy is going up in downtown,” Poe said. “As the economy gets better, that will lead to increased demand for rooms. We’re not counting on (it), but we fully believe the Kentucky International Convention Center will get updated and renovated.”
CVB CEO Wood said the current downtown hotel occupancy rate is about 70 percent, ” which is a good number.” Wood added that while the regional occupancy rate is lower than the same period last year, “downtown is extremely strong. Steve’s right.”
That traffic is being fed by an exceptionally strong convention year, by engineers coming to Louisville to work on the Ohio River Bridges Project and by increased business and leisure travel, he said.
A new Aloft hotel is just one Poe Companies project. The developer has started construction on a second cluster of apartments at RiverPark Place on River Road. Poe announced he’ll invest up to $1.5 billion at the site including planned luxury apartment tower and a 9,000-square-foot, as yet unnamed restaurant.
Poe Companies also has an apartment complex under construction on Lexington Road between downtown and the Highlands.
Asked how he’s managing multiple projects, Poe said, “We’ve been staffing up. REI is our partner on the Aloft. They’ll step up. And White Lodging is helping with the operations side.”
About Aloft Hotels: There are currently 75 Aloft hotels in 14 countries. In the United States, most are in larger markets or resort destinations. The closest Aloft to Louisville is in Nashville.
From at June post, “10 things to know about Aloft Hotels” on the SF Gate blog:
The lobby of the Aloft at SFO is big, bright and lively—the hotel calls it the “remix area” and there’s room for small groups to gather, communal tables, an unusual blue pool table, free wi-fi, and electrical outlets all over the place. Stationary iPads are available for browsing or making reservations via OpenTable. There are also two desktop computers and a printer.