Building a brand is not for the faint of ‘heart,’ so to speak, but apparently no one told David Hart as he has continues to methodically build up the company’s Harbor Hotel Collection with unique resort destinations.
Hart is the second generation president and CEO of Hart Hotels, Inc., a Buffalo-based owner, operator and developer founded by his father William in 1985. The family-owned company earlier this month opened the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in Celeron, NY, which marks the fifth property to join the Harbor Hotel Collection and brings the company’s portfolio to 11 properties overall.
Hart touted the potential of the Harbor Hotel Collection. “I believe it’s a growth platform for our company, which does still have a foot in the branded canoe. I’m constantly on the lookout for communities and locations that I think would fit,” he said.
But just how does Hart determine what’s a good fit? “I think it’s really hard in this day and age to create a destination and location out of nothing. The first thing is to go to a place people have heard about and the second thing is to build something there that doesn’t exist. So I’m not saying build it and they’ll come, I’m really saying build it and they’ll stay. Every hotel has been noted by the locals that ‘this is the first new hotel that’s been built here in decades.’ So we’re filling a need there,” he said.
The Harbor Hotel Collection got its start with the development of the Portland Harbor Hotel, which opened in 2002. The collection was expanded with the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen, NY, and the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton, NY, which opened in 2008 and 2014, respectively. The Inn at Diamond Cove—which is located on the historic site of Fort McKinley on Great Diamond Island in Casco Bay, Portland, ME—is also part of the collection.
Hart noted, “I call it a brand now,” in reference to the four-diamond Harbor Collection as he described why. “Each hotel has its own little slice of something different, but there is a method to the madness here in terms of what we’re doing,” he said.
The newest hotel is a $38 million, luxury 135-room property on the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Located on the former nine-acre site of the Celeron Amusement Park, the hotel features luxury guestrooms and suites, many featuring balconies and lake views, dining at Lake House Tap & Grille, a restaurant with a large patio overlooking the lake, indoor and outdoor pools and a state-of-the-art fitness center. The hotel’s Pier Ballroom and Conference Center comprises over 10,000 square feet for corporate meetings and social events.
Designed by Norbert Hausner of NH Architecture, the hotel is characterized by an Arts and Crafts style façade highlighted with rustic stone accents and expansive outdoor areas with patios and fire pits.
Hart offered a nod to the location of the property. “The southern tier of New York is a really nice destination for the folks in the southwestern part of New York State, and even Erie, Cleveland or Pittsburgh, which are two hours or less by car. They are good demand generating small to medium-sized cities that we can promote to,” he stated.
The CEO charted the progress the brand has made in terms of consumer recognition and the subsequent impact.
“I think we’ve gotten a little niche there in these markets and some mass appeal. We’ve kind of fed off that success and it’s enabled us to be truly independent so we can do some of our own marketing and promotion based on data collection, in addition to good search engine management,” he said.
One key point of differentiation for the Harbor Hotels is its atypical approach to food & beverage, according to Hart. “We kind of lead with our chin a little bit on F&B. Some people shy away from food and beverage in our industry. We embrace it kind of like what Kimpton did so we brand our own restaurant and our bars. We’ve got some unique outdoor spaces for food & beverage,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the Harbor Hotel Collection is “highly seasonal,” according to Hart, who acknowledged that can be challenging at times. “To make it work financially and get a return on investment and to offload the risk our key is how much shoulder season can we do leading up to the 100 days [between Memorial Day and Labor Day] and then after the 100 days,” he said, adding the other key factor is “what kind of business can we attract Monday through Thursday.”
The rest of the portfolio includes the Doubletree by Hilton Buffalo/Amherst; Green Mountain Suites; Candlewood Suites Buffalo/Amherst; Hotel at Batavia Downs; The Hotel Ithaca; and Holiday Inn Express Buffalo Airport.
In addition, Hart noted the company is getting ready to break ground on a new Hampton Inn by Hilton in Olean, NY, that is slated to open in spring of 2020. He also noted there are a number of projects in the pipeline which could be branded a number of ways, including as part of the Harbor collection or more traditionally branded properties, or be independent.
Hart, meanwhile, believes the company is well positioned for success going forward.
“We like to and can develop; we like to and can manage F&B; I feel like we’re in a good spot. I’ve got a great management team and a great family that supports what I’m doing and we’ve got lots of experience,” he said.