Staying in power: Portland hotel developers try to catch up with the rising market

New kids in the neighborhood can’t wait to go – three upscale downtown Portland hotels are opening their doors this year. Together, they will add 394 new rooms, bringing the city’s total to 3,415, including B & Bs.

The first to come out of the gate are the Canopy Portland Waterfront and the Aloft Hotel Portland, both on Commercial Street, followed later in the year by Shipyard Brewing Co.’s Cambria Hotel Portland Old Port, often referred to as “brewtel”. .

Although the newly built establishments debut at a precarious time for tourism and hospitality after last year’s pandemic, their backers are convinced of their endurance – and Portland’s enduring luster.

“We’re very optimistic about Portland in general, and Commercial Street is the place to be,” said David Leatherwood, CEO of Norwich Partners LLC, the New England and New England-based hotel development and investment firm. Florida behind the Aloft. Adjacent to a mixed-use project at the former Rufus Deering Lumber site, it is slated to open in May. This places it at the heart of a downtown construction boom that goes far beyond hotels.

“It certainly conveys to the traveler, ‘I am in the right place, surrounded by construction and new developments,’ he says.

The president of Fathom Cos. Jim Brady takes a similar point of view, having secured one of the last large buildable lots on the Peninsula, also on Commercial Street, for the Canopy.

Another hive of activity at the end of March with workers from Cianbro installing interior fittings, it should open this spring at a date to be determined.

“We are optimistic,” says Brady. “It’s nice to be able to open up to the strength of this summer, when people feel ready to travel again.

The perfect place to travel

While it’s a risky time to open a new hotel anywhere, Portland developers are counting on strong pent-up demand from vacationers, starting with those who come by car, to place Maine’s largest city in the area. sweet spot of 2021.

These expectations are supported by a McKinsey & Co. report released in January on how the COVID-19 crisis and recovery are shaping the global economy. He revealed that people who travel for pleasure will want to start over, due to the “very human desire to explore and enjoy,” while business travel will take longer to rebound.

An American Express report released in March paints a similar picture. Of 3,000 travelers to the United States and six other countries surveyed in January, 87% said having a trip planned in the future gives them something to look forward to, while 56% said they are so short of travel that they are willing to book a trip now even if it means having to cancel later.

As air travel begins to intensify across the country, the Portland International Jetport is poised to attract more visitors to Bon Appetit magazine’s “City of the Year 2018” with new routes. been by United, American, Frontier and others.

This makes the timing “perfect” for three new hotels in Portland, in the eyes of

Greg Mitchell, the city’s director of economic development, who says each will bring a different experience to visitors. It also highlights the strong track record of owners and operators.

“These are people with a long history in Portland who understand Portland and are committed to Portland for the long haul,” he says. “That in itself has been a huge level of confidence for me – despite the pandemic, they are continuing with their plans. “Little worried about the overdevelopment of tourism, he adds:” Our economy is strong and diversified, and it is only strengthening and diversifying.

Visit Portland President and CEO Lynn Tillotson said booking trends point to a strong 2021 season driven by leisure travelers.

“Tourism is the engine of the vitality of our region, and it is the vitality that drives businesses to develop here and people to choose to live there,” she says. “Tourism is essential to our success.

Those behind the new hotels coming online in 2021 are determined to claim their right in a competitive market that will continue to be increasingly crowded, not only in Portland but also in Westbrook, Scarborough and South Portland.

“There is a competitive market because there is a need,” notes Joseph Caradonna of Koucar Management LLC, a Michigan-based development company that has partnered with Shipyard, Bateman Partners LLC and others on the Cambria. .

Bateman Partners President David Bateman adds, “I’ve been a huge fan of Portland since the 1970s.… People forget that the city has had its ups and downs and rebirths, which is why the symbol of the city is the phoenix. We are on a very good tangent.

Aloft’s “golden” moment

For Norwich Partners, the Aloft Hotel Portland will be its third in the city. He owns the AC by Marriott, which opened in 2018, and sold the Residence Inn to an undisclosed buyer in 2017.

Founded in 2003, Norwich Partners has stakes in 27 hotels across the country, and Aloft is one of four hotels it is opening this year – and the only one outside of Florida. Although this is double its normal amount, some openings have been delayed due to the pandemic.

Leatherwood, who has helped develop more than 4,000 hotel rooms with a market value of over $ 1 billion, predicts that “Portland is going to have a booming summer.” Lest there be concerns about an oversupply of rooms, he said, “I’ve heard this since 2002, and it’s never been true – it’s a very resilient market – with This caveat: If you’re truly downtown and you’re on or near Commercial Street, you’re golden.

Speaking by phone from Sanibel Island, Fla., Leatherwood describes Aloft as a “hipster, younger version of AC.” Although both are Marriott-owned brands, Aloft is targeting young families and millennials as a “very high-tech advanced” brand with amenities including a robotic butler who makes deliveries to rooms. It also aims to be music-oriented, inviting local street musicians to play in the lobby.

Despite a slight delay in furniture deliveries hampered by the recent blockage of the Suez Canal, he hopes for an opening by early June. Like AC, Aloft will be managed by Boston-based Pyramid Hotel Group LLC for Norwich. It normally does a release after a few years although it is not set in stone.

“Everything is for sale, but nothing is for sale,” says Leatherwood, “which means if we opened the doors to the Aloft hotel today, we would sell it the next day if we got the right price.” He does not rule out concluding other transactions in Portland, where he hopes that some restaurateurs who had to close during the pandemic will reopen or reinvent themselves with a new concept.

“The city will come back,” he said.

Raise the canopy

Unlike Norwich Partners, Fathom Cos. by Jim Brady is involved in both the development and management of the hotel, starting with the Portland Press Hotel in a refurbished Art Deco era press building.

The Canopy by Hilton is a new build on a wasteland – where E. Swasey & Co. once made pottery and glassware – that had long been on Brady’s radar. While he won’t disclose what he is investing to build the 104,000-square-foot structure, he does note that it would be no less than $ 300 per square foot – or at least $ 31.2 million.

Photo / Jim Neuger

Progress of construction on the Portland Waterfront Canopy.

Photo / Jim Neuger

Progress of construction on the Portland Waterfront Canopy.

Despite rising construction costs and some furniture delivery delays, there was no skimping on the design – the interior is from Portland’s Ealain studio – who built a model room in a warehouse as a test. plumbing and accessories.

“It’s a great exercise and ultimately I’m confident it will lead you to building a better project,” Brady says.

The Canopy Portland Waterfront, which opened in October 2019, is targeting a spring opening, but without a specific date. Confident that leisure traveler demand for outdoor destinations puts Maine in a privileged position, Brady expects a similar recovery in business travel by the fall.

Brandon Hussey, Fathom’s director of sales and marketing, expresses a similar point of view as bookings for the end of the year begin to arrive, noting on a tour of the site: “It’s encouraging to see some of them go into the books ”.

While Canopy and Press Hotel will partly compete, Brady also expects operational efficiencies. Like the Press Hotel, he expects the Canopy to employ around 100 people when it is fully operational.

Brady, who has other non-hotel development projects in Biddeford and Lewiston, said he would be open to other opportunities in Portland, but likely not immediately given the constraints of new developments.

More generally, he says, “We are excited about the Portland market and hope people continue to want to come here for work and play.

Photo / Jim Neuger

Brandon hussey, Director of Sales and Marketing at Fathom Cos., on the roof of what will be the Portland Waterfront Canopy.

Cambria’s Fall Aspirations

Contrasting the Commercial Street trend, Cambria Hotel Portland Old Port is conquering the eastern seafront, an emerging area for commercial development.

“For years that was not human land, but it is no longer the case now,” says Bateman, of Bateman Partners, the developer behind the project with a huge portfolio of residential and commercial projects.

As with the Portland Harbor Hotel and the Inn at Diamond Cove, Bateman Partners develops hotels but leaves the management to others. For the $ 27.5 million, 102-room Cambria, he teamed up with Shipyard and other partners, including Donohoe Cos. of Bethesda, Maryland; and Koucar Management, based in Detroit.

Photo / Tim Greenway

The sixth floor seen from the future Cambria Hotel.

They’re aiming to open by the start of the fourth quarter, and while that means missing the summer season, Bateman says, “We’re optimistic we’re going to have a good fall, and you’ve got to roll with the punches. “

He adds that “there are a lot of fun things we can plan for during the winter,” in keeping with the tradition of the Portland Harbor Hotel’s Ice Bar. Kicking off new beer traditions at Cambria, the indoor-outdoor rooftop bar will feature real hop plants for use in beer made by Shipyard.

“Someone once told me that the closest thing to entertainment is hotels,” says Bateman. “Either you love him or you hate him. I have come to love him.

Interestingly, it was recorded drone footage of Casco Bay that drew the Batemans to the Cambria Hotel Project, which is entirely a pre-fabricated construction.

Once completed, the involvement of his firm will end, according to his usual practice, leaving the management of the new establishment to others.

“Construction projects are always bittersweet,” Bateman admits. “We love to design them and build them, but once they come out on the market it’s like raising a kid and then saying, let’s see how you do in the real world. “

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Sandy A. Greer

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