By Kerry Medina
HOUSTON—Valencia Group is reshaping the landscape of Texas hotels as its collection of independent and design-centric boutique hotels—all but one of which is located in the Lone Star State—will grow to a total of eight later this year when Texican Court opens in Irving, TX.
This new property will be another example of Valencia Group’s “Court” concept, which puts a modern spin on the American motor court motels that were popular during the 1940s and 1950s. The upper-upscale concept was conceived specifically for implementation in secondary and tertiary markets while the hotel group’s luxury properties, including the Hotel Alessandra which opened in Houston in last fall, are purpose-built for the major gateway cities where they’re located.
“We have made a strategic decision to ‘own’ Texas and given our location in the state and the general strength of the Texas economy, it would be imprudent for us not to take advantage of our local market knowledge,” said John Keeling, EVP of development. “But we also have a national focus and are pursuing projects in California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri and South Carolina.”
Currently, the hotel group has letters of intent for sites in Florida and South Carolina. A ninth hotel, the Cotton Court, is also in the works for Lubbock, TX, as Valencia Group also explores sites in Dallas, Forth Worth and San Antonio.
Regardless of the hotels’ locations, Valencia Group properties share certain common features such as room size, meeting space, a heavily landscaped courtyard with a pool, pavilion and cabanas, as well as a distinctive design that is unique to each individual hotel that echoes the market where it’s located.
The hotel group collaborates with architecture and design firm Rottet Studio to create the structural blueprint and interiors that will define the property. Although Valencia Group only conceptualizes property design once it controls the site and completes historic research that results in an inspiration imagery book that is presented to the design shop as a means of informing their work.
“We want every Court hotel to look like it has been in that market for 50 years or more and reflects the culture of that market in a visceral way,” Keeling explained. “But design is always constrained by a need to earn a certain return on capital. We have never built exactly what we would like and probably never will.”
Texican Court’s design blends Texan and Mexican cultures and was influenced by classic Spaghetti Western films, while the upcoming Cotton Court will be built in the image of a former cotton gin, complete with cotton exchange, cotton warehouses and a dancehall, converted into a hotel. The Cavalry Court in College Station, TX, was designed as the conversion of an old cavalry post to pay homage to Parson’s Mounted Cavalry as part of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University.
Likewise, the Lone Star Court in northwest Austin was custom built to look like a conversion from a German Hill Country ranch house with a barn, with touches like an Airstream trailer food outlet to further reflect Austin’s culture. However, as these hotels are constructed to look like historic buildings converted into hotels, Keeling pointed out “these are not your grandfather’s motor courts.”
That said, he also acknowledged that these motor court-inspired hotels with multiple buildings that each have different architecture are more expensive to build than single commoditized hotels contained under a single roof. Valencia Group also builds its Court hotels exclusively in “A” locations defined as a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with nearby restaurants, bars and attractions.
That location requirement is also one reason why the group opts for new construction over actual conversions of old motor court motels, which are usually located along old U.S. highways that have largely been bypassed by the Interstate highway system. Keeling also explained that these older properties tend to have low ceilings and small bathrooms. The exterior design has also been updated for security purposes so that vehicle parking has been relocated to the property periphery from the center court that is formed by a C-shaped arrangement of rooms. The courts are closed with the pool located in the center.
Valencia Group’s luxury hotels—the Hotel Alessandra in Houston and the Hotel Valencia in San Antonio as well as San Jose, CA—are designed as 21st Century reinterpretations of the Grande Dame hotels of the 1940s and 1950s in city center locations or mixed-use development projects. As with the Court hotels, Valencia Group’s luxury properties have comparable room sizes and amenities such as mattress quality and toiletries, but each hotel’s design is singular.
Now the group’s luxury flagship property, the Hotel Alessandra was designed as the personification of the eldest of three European-born sisters, the other two being the Hotel Valencia and the upscale Hotel Sorella, meaning ‘sister,’ in Houston’s CityCentre. With a global perspective, Alessandra has successfully adopted to her new home, replete with rich reminders of a gilded past in a contemporary setting.
The hotel, according to Keeling, also addressed a glaring lack of luxury properties in the fourth largest city in the U.S. and even with its doors open, he suggested there is still a need for luxury hotels in the market. But Valencia Group is selective in its pursuit of luxury development, which Keeling said “necessarily slows the rate of new development.”
In fact, the hotel company is deliberate in selecting its development projects because it owns or has equity in each of its properties to date and expects both ownership models and joint ventures to continue as an avenue of future growth. But Keeling noted that Valencia Group is also an experienced third-party management organization.
But he is especially bullish on the future of independent boutique hotels, attributing the company’s own success to the fact that its properties are “a refreshing departure from industry trends and expectations.” Valencia Group’s Court concept goes against the grain of common perceptions of independent boutiques.
“There is a belief that independents do fine in good times, but need a national brand to survive a downturn, but we are proving many common beliefs to be overstated,” Keeling said
Nevertheless, there are certain parameters that guide the locations that the company will consider for future projects. For example, the company will not manage a unionized hotel and while that may hinder entry into certain markets like New York and San Francisco, Keeling does consider that a challenge for the company.
“If you look at what we have accomplished with our seven—soon to be nine—hotels and project forward, you will miss the trajectory of our company,” he said. “We have a few more un-played tricks up our sleeves.”