It was only a matter of time before the first post-merger dual-development project featuring a Marriott brand and a Starwood brand would come to fruition. As such, it should come as no surprise that the milestone Denver property is being developed by White Lodging Services Corp., which brings both a long track record of developing and operating for Marriott International as well as a deep knowledge of the local market.
The 18-story development will combine a 272-room Le Meridien, which was previously a Starwood brand, with a 223-room AC Hotels by Marriott. (Marriott International formally acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016.) Merrillville, IN-based White Lodging—which is a 50 percent partner on the ownership side and will manage the two hotels—has some 165 premium-branded hotels in its portfolio.
According to Deno Yiankes, president and CEO of investments and development, White Lodging, the property is slated to open in mid-September. The company first broke ground on the project, which is located in the downtown area at 15th Street and California, a block from the Colorado Convention Center, in November of 2015.
Yiankes noted the dual development model has been utilized in many of the company’s urban projects and talked about the decision. “We think it’s an A site, a block from the convention center and adjacent to the headquarters convention hotel. We just felt compelled to maximize the density of the site. We did not necessarily like the idea of having 495 rooms with one brand; we liked two brands working for us,” he said.
The two brands selected represent an unprecedented combination, and Yiankes explained the company’s rationale for those particular flags. In the case of Le Meridien, he noted that the downtown Denver market hadn’t seen any development within what had been the Starwood family of brands in some 25 years. Yiankes added the company canvassed a number of industry colleagues who had experience with Le Meridien, while emphasizing the importance of the brand’s design flexibility.
“There’s a few of them in U.S. and that’s a challenge as far as distribution, but that also could be a positive because it give us some elasticity and some flexibility on the design side. That’s what we learned about Le Meridien, it has as a brand much more elasticity. We wanted to look up and build something really kind of niche in the market that we thought there was a void for. In my mind we built kind of a lifestyle hotel with the security of the Marriott reservation system behind it,” he said, noting that most other major brands wouldn’t allow the same design flexibility.
AC Hotels Denver will be the lifestyle brand’s first Denver property. The brand originated in Europe in 2011 as a joint venture with Spanish hotelier Antonio Catalina and has a portfolio of nearly 100 hotels in Spain, Italy, Portugal and France.
“When the chance came up to be the first AC [in Denver], our team had traveled to Spain and Italy to really get indoctrinated into what AC is all about. The hotel is going to be, we think, right in line with some of the original halo AC Hotels we saw in Italy and Spain,” he said.
Yiankes noted that the Le Meridien will be positioned as a four-plus star type of product, and as such he emphasized that the company went with high-end finishes in a variety of product, such as lighting. “It’s going to have a much more upscale feel than most of our competitive set,” he said.
Meanwhile, the AC will be positioned a half-star below the Le Meridien competing primarily with full-service boutique hotels in the area.
While the properties will share some back of house functions, each hotel will have its own distinct entry, lobby and bar led food and beverage outlets. Le Meridien will offer more than 8,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art banquet and meeting space, including a 5,000 sq-ft. ballroom. The design-led hotel will also offer the Le Meridien Hub, which re-interprets the traditional lobby into a social gathering place and further builds on the brand’s arrival experience and coffee culture.
Yiankes further broke down the guests that each property is targeting, noting the AC is expected to be predominantly transient, both leisure and corporate. Meanwhile, White Lodging expects the Le Meridien business to be about one-third group and two-thirds upscale transient and corporate, according to Yiankes. He added that despite being roughly a block from the convention center “we’re not looking to be a group hotel per se and be dominated with groups. Our positioning allows us to take the preferred group business that’s willing to pay for the upscale design and amenities that we have.”
In addition to the aforementioned convention center, other nearby attractions include the city’s 16th Street entertainment district and Colorado’s state capital complex as well as the LoDo Historic District; the Denver Performing Arts Complex; and sports venues such as Pepsi Center; Coors Field; and Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos.
Yiankes further touted the Denver market, where the company got started developing in 1993 and has built more than a dozen hotels, including both full-service and limited service.
“We’re long on Denver. What we’ve seen over the last two decades is that it’s diversified so much. A big part of our strategic investment plan is related to going where we see the jobs going and where the millennials want to go. We put [Denver] right up there with Austin and Nashville, where young people just want to live…Denver’s tailored to accommodate them over the next 20 years,” he noted.