With urban design, Aloft targeting young travelers

Article from Charlotte Business Journal – view the original article here

With urban design, Aloft targeting young travelers

Charlotte Business Journal – by Julie Bird – Contributing writer

The Aloft hotel being built atop the EpiCentre retail and entertainment complex at East Trade and South College streets is on track for a Nov. 1 opening. Charlotte will be one of the first locations for a new chain of boutique hotels aimed at Generation X travelers.

With an average room rate of $150, Aloft is designed as a moderately priced alternative to other select-service hotels such as Holiday Inn Express or Four Points by Sheraton. But Aloft hopes to appeal to young travelers with urban-inspired design features such as 9-foot ceilings, oversized windows, contemporary furnishings, large walk-in showers and 42-inch plasma televisions linked to a plug-and-play electronics center.

The Ghazi Co.’s EpiCentre is “a great mixed-use development in a great area of downtown Charlotte,” says Starwood Hotels and Resorts executive Ed Leuzarder. “We feel the Aloft brand will work very well in this type of urban setting.”

The hotel is rising from the fifth level of EpiCentre’s retail/restaurant/entertainment section, making it a “pretty complicated project,” says Leuzarder, vice president for the Southeast and the Caribbean for Starwood’s global development group. The Charlotte hotel will be larger than the prototype — 176 rooms instead of 136, and nine stories rather than four.

But work on the 126,000-square-foot hotel is progressing smoothly, he says, with a model room expected to be ready by the end of June.

The $100 million EpiCentre project, with its 267,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, is an ideal fit with the Aloft concept, Leuzarder says. The hotel will offer grab-and-go breakfast and lunch choices, and the EpiCentre complex will give guests plenty of options for dinner, he says.

Restaurants at EpiCenter will include Cantina Laredo, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Bella Vista Restaurant and Lounge as well as fast-food choices such as Five Guys Burgers.

Entertainment venues will include Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Whisky River country bar; Howl at the Moon, a bar with dueling pianos and sing-alongs; a 20-lane bowling alley; and a five-screen movie theater.

Leuzarder says Noble Investment Group of Atlanta, which will own and operate the hotel, brought the EpiCentre site to Starwood’s attention after targeting the Charlotte market.

The Ghazi Co. “put together a very exciting mixed-use deal in a city-center location, and we liked the growth metrics,” says Ben Brunt, executive vice president of investments at Noble Investment Group. “We felt it was a very strategic location.”

Most of the other select-service hotels are farther from The Square, making the Trade and College location especially appealing, Brunt says.

“We saw the location as having an opportunity to get seven-day-a-week demand” because of its proximity to uptown’s major office towers as well as large entertainment venues including Time Warner Cable Arena and Bank of America Stadium, he says. “It’s a very pedestrian-oriented, urban setting.”

Uptown needs more hotel rooms, so Charlotte Center City Partners is excited to see Aloft open later this year, says Michael Smith, executive director.

“This is the kind of hotel amenity that’s among the choices when you go to other cities,” he says. With styling that has been compared to that of Starwood’s luxury W hotels, Aloft will provide a lodging option not available in Charlotte, he says.

Starwood has been developing the Aloft concept for three years, launching a virtual hotel on the Internet to test its appeal. Up to 20 Aloft hotels are expected to open this year, starting this summer, with another 50 opening in 2009, says spokeswoman Angela Bliss.

A second Charlotte location, with 135 rooms, is planned in Ballantyne.

Amenities at the Charlotte Aloft will include an outdoor pool, wireless Internet access, a cocktail lounge called “w xyz,” a 24/7 food pantry and a 650-square-foot fitness room with workout routines that can be customized and downloaded onto digital devices.

In keeping with its focus on technology, the lobby will feature a self-service kiosk where guests can check in and even change their room, Bliss says. The kiosk also will print airline boarding passes. Guests can still check in with front-desk personnel if they prefer.

The plug-and-play technology center in each room will, for example, allow a guest prepping for a PowerPoint presentation to view computer files on the plasma TV or listen to music from an MP3 player through the television’s sound system.

Although the target demographic is 25- to 45-year-old guests, Starwood’s Leuzarder believes Aloft ultimately will appeal to a broad range of business travelers.

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