Boutique hotel plans upscale lodging in city

November 28th, 2016

By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

When discerning guests want to book a room, they might begin by reading a hotel’s manifesto.

Provenance Hotels has crafted one that includes its intention to take ownership of “every reservation, every negotiation, every aesthetic consideration (and) every guest experience.”

The award-winning boutique hotelier has built a reputation on operating small, upscale hotels in urban areas. The company showcases local art and artisans to make each property unique, often appealing to corporate clientele.

And, now, the Portland, Oregon, company plans to build a boutique hotel in downtown Fort Wayne. The project, which will incorporate Barbara Bradley Baekgaard’s flair for design, has an estimated $27 million price tag.

Adding an upscale player to the local hospitality market could give existing hotel managers some sleepless nights. Can the market support them all, including a second new downtown hotel White Lodging has proposed building beside its existing property, the Courtyard by Marriott?

Local business executives have another concern. They’re already fretting that Provenance’s planned 100 to 120 rooms, first announced last week, won’t be enough to meet demand.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be too popular,” said Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater Sound Inc.

Focus on stories

Bashar Wali, Provenance’s president, said the hotel industry offers a commodity – a bed and a shower.

He prefers to think of his business as a theater production.

A Broadway show won’t succeed, he said, if it relies on a beautiful theater and costumes at the expense of great acting and storytelling. 

An off-Broadway show that offers top-notch talent, on the other hand, will have customers lined up outside its door, Wali said.

“That’s what we do. We focus on telling great stories,” he said. “We win the game if you leave and say, ‘Wow. I can’t believe what I found there.’ ”

The secret in Provenance’s sauce is to incorporate local art and artisans in the design from the bottom up. 

The company studies the local market, the neighborhood, even the block and the particular corner of the block its properties sit on to understand what makes it unique, Wali said.

“There will be nothing like it,” he said.

Baekgaard, the driving force behind the effort to build a boutique hotel, said she wanted something similar to her favorite London hotels operated by Firmdale, a self-described luxury hotelier.

The owners, who operate eight boutique hotels in London and one in New York, believe “hotels should be living things not stuffy institutions.”

The philosophy dovetails with Provenance’s manifesto, which refers to hotel buildings as mere vessels.

“Its real value is in its contents,” the statement says, “the things you choose to imbue it with: the ideals, the traditions, the manners, the quirks, the sense of humor, the sense of drama, and, oh yes, the personalities who bring it all to life.”

Going bed-to-bed 

Provenance’s approach sets it apart from existing Fort Wayne hotels.

Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne, said the boutique property won’t be marketing to the guests that other local hotels are trying to attract.

“They really want a first-class, four-star or five-star hotel to entertain corporate guests in,” he said of Baekgaard and Vera Bradley CEO Rob Wallstrom. “I think Barbara is trying to help Fort Wayne by building a showcase, a signature hotel.”

Provenance’s plans aren’t scaring off White Lodging Services, the South Bend company that owns and operates downtown’s newest hotel, the 6-year-old Courtyard by Marriott.

The hotelier is considering building a second location beside the Courtyard on a parking lot on Jefferson Boulevard near Harrison Square.

No brand name for the hotel has been announced yet.

The Provenance project won’t affect those “proposed plans,” said Kathleen Sebastian, White Lodging’s spokeswoman. 

“Our development team has had positive meetings with the city regarding another White Lodging hotel downtown and controls the site via an option agreement with the city,” she said in an email.

“Like with the Harrison Square project, we believe our goals are aligned with city officials to bring another first-class hotel to downtown Fort Wayne.”

Allen County has 5,000 hotel rooms, O’Connell said. Occupancy rates year-to-date are 63.2 percent, he said, citing statistics from Smith Travel Research, a national data firm.

Revenue per room averages more than $50 locally. Allen County’s average daily hotel room rate is more than $81.

Provenance expects to charge close to $200 a night, Wali said.

“It’s a great investment in downtown. It’s a product that isn’t here,” O’Connell said of the planned boutique hotel. “And it creates another reason for people to come to Fort Wayne – for business and for leisure.”

Visit Fort Wayne spearheads local tourism efforts.

Sweetwater Sound, ­Surack’s company, is among the local attractions. 

Sweetwater draws big-name musicians and corporate executives to its local headquarters for high-tech music and recording equipment. 

The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and many other household names are among the company’s customers.

Sweetwater now puts up its prestigious clients at Hall’s Guesthouse, where the music retailer has paid to make over rooms with Beatles and Nashville themes. A Hall’s official couldn’t be reached for comment.

Surack left no doubt that his company will book rooms with Provenance.

“I just hope they build enough rooms,” Surack said, “that’s all I can say.”