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August 2011
Queen City Jewel
By Carol Gifford

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (July 14, 2011) – Hyatt Hotels Corp., with its eye on expanding its select-service properties, has acquired a portfolio of assets from LodgeWorks, L.P. The $802 million cash acquisition includes Hotel Sierra Charlotte Center City, which will join the Hyatt Summerfield Suites portfolio.

 

     The newest jewel in the Charlotte skyline is an upscale, boutique hotel situated on prime real estate in a culturally advantaged city and vibrant marketplace. Adjacent to the Time Warner Cable Arena, it’s so close that sitting outside on the seventh-floor terrace you can almost touch the side of the arena. And if windows were located on that section of the Arena, you could see inside them. Its outside terrace is a balcony to the city’s towering offices.

     “Our location is a great selling point,” says Charlotte’s Hotel Sierra General Manager Don Lockhart. “Hotel Sierra Charlotte Center City is in the right location, a great spot for people doing business or attending events uptown. We’re close to the home of the Bobcats, the Panthers’ stadium, the EpiCentre, NASCAR Hall of Fame, NC Music Factory, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Concord Mills, the airport, and lots of businesses.”

     And a great selling point it was, too, when Hyatt Hotels Corp. recently announced its acquisition of Hotel Sierra Charlotte Center City as part of a portfolio of assets from LodgeWorks, L.P. Described as a “key asset” in a strategic, high barrier-to-entry market, the Hotel Sierra Charlotte Center City is scheduled to be rebranded as a Hyatt boutique in the fall.

     “This is a significant expansion of our presence in the United States and enhances our extended stay representation with a great collection of high quality hotels,” states Mark S. Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corp.

     Indeed, the Hotel Sierra collection exemplifies the elite in extended stay and suite hotels. It ushers in a dynamic new hospitality brand, offering special touches of luxury and fresh design that allow the modern traveler to live their life while away from home.

     And Charlotte’s Hotel Sierra certainly looks the part. Only a few months open, its décor looks right out of the pages of a glossy architectural magazine, offering a palette of warm grays creatively paired with crisp ebony and alabaster accents, splashes of rich eggplant, apple green and hints of burnt orange, providing a complementary and welcoming contrast to its modern and interactive space.

     The hotel has an arresting urban and urbane design coupled with sleek social spaces, including the city’s only Rooftop Terrace replete with refreshing lounge pool, crackling fireplace and conversational seating.

 

The Timing is Right

     Hotel Sierra Charlotte Center City has taken travel to the next level and is poised to become the destination among travelers headed to the region,” affirms Lockhart. “It was our parent company, LodgeWorks, which was a trailblazer of the suite hotel concept starting with the origination of Residence Inn in the early ’80s to its recent launch of AVIA Hotels boutique collection. So it only seems natural that they would be on the cutting edge of the hospitality evolution.”

     The new hotel was undertaken as a joint venture between Lodgeworks, Hotel Sierra’s parent company, and the city of Charlotte. The area is zoned mixed usage, says Lockhart, which allowed for development of either condominiums or a hotel on the site.

     “Our company decided it was a good time to build here because Charlotte is still a growing market,” he explains, noting that the company carefully picks its sites, choosing to build the right product in the right market. “The economic downturn made it a better opportunity for development right now,” says Lockhart. “Construction costs were down, making it more profitable.”

     It was also a good time to open up—just in time for the upswing in the region’s hotel industry occupancy rate, which soared to 66.1 percent in May, the highest rate in three years, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA).

     Released figures show the Charlotte area’s occupancy rate for the first five months of the year at 61 percent, compared with 58 percent in peer cities, and the revenue per room in Charlotte at $51, compared with $53 in peer cities.

     There were 664,309 hotel rooms sold in May in the Charlotte region, the most since October 2007, according to the CRVA, building on the upswing that began in the winter and spring of 2010.

     With an average occupancy per month of greater than 50 percent and continued growth of five percent each month since its March opening, the Hotel Sierra is part of that upswing and growing as expected, says Lockhart.

     The hotel started building its customer base early on, offering online specials to introduce its new concept lodging. Monthly reports on occupancy and average daily rate found 65 percent of its business guests already belong to a travel rewards program and still choose Hotel Sierra, and 35 percent of its leisure travelers book their accommodations through an online service.

     Hotel Sierra seeks to blur the lines between life at home and life on the road, offering guests larger rooms and more amenities and service to help them feel more comfortable and “at home” during their stay, says Lockhart.

     The hotel is a contemporary brand in select locations—Charlotte’s being the 15th Hotel Sierra—offering a holistic lifestyle experience integrated with design and fashion, says Lockhart. Each Hotel Sierra is decorated and furnished to fit its location; the Charlotte modern décor in ebony, charcoal and eggplant colors is muted, but distinctive.

 

Dynamic New Hospitality Brand

     Lockhart describes the Hotel Sierra brand as offering select amenities that effortlessly bridge the gap between domesticated pleasures with that of life on the open road. Charlotte’s 17-floor hotel’s amenities include larger 400-square-foot rooms and stainless steel kitchens with granite countertops and full-size refrigerators for extended stays. Kitchens in the rooms are fully-stocked with dishes and utensils and include a stove, microwave and dishwasher. Bathrooms have walk-in showers with frosted glass doors, and rooms include a 42-in. flat-screen TV.

     “Each room has full windows offering a stunning nighttime view,” says Lockhart. “Rooms are furnished with larger-size California king beds.”

     This accommodation allows the hotel to comfortably host visiting NBA teams. Athletes, celebrities or other VIPs might choose to stay in one of the three specialty suites, with 12-foot ceilings, wet bars, 55-in. flat-screen televisions and outdoor balconies.

     A complimentary bistro-style breakfast—anchored by a made-to-order omelet station along with hot biscuits, eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, French toast, fresh fruit, and basic items like bagels, muffins and beverages—and a deluxe fitness center help guests maintain a healthy regimen. Free Wi-Fi, flat panel televisions with expanded cable, a fully-equipped business center, and the weekday edition of USA Today help guests stay connected.

     Unexpected indulgences include clock radios with iPod docking stations to keep personal playlists on cue, waffle terry robes for those who have a hankering to lounge a bit longer, Starbucks-brewed coffee, guest valet, laundry and dry cleaning service plus a 24-hour onsite market.

     Local artwork from Charlotte in displayed in individual guest rooms, in hallways, in the lounge and in meeting spaces. Paintings with brightly-colored accents stand out against the dark background.

     The H lounge on the first floor serves as a full-scale restaurant, sports bar and breakfast area. The 2,200 square feet of meeting space includes the seventh-floor terrace with an outdoor pool and inside rooms splashed with accent purple sofas, bright artwork and accessories, and large floor-to-ceiling windows framing the Charlotte skyline.

     “It’s so refreshing to see a modern décor that’s upscale and chic,” says Hannah Roth, one of the hotel’s first customers with her wedding reception. “Some of the older, more typical choices have that ‘hotel look’ with dingy carpet. The Hotel Sierra in Charlotte is new. It offers reasonable prices and has a staff that greets you with warm, welcoming, Southern hospitality.”

     She and her husband wanted a downtown venue for their reception. Their 90-guest wedding party stayed at the hotel, and their reception was held on the seventh-floor flowing from the outdoor terrace with the swimming pool covered by an acrylic dance floor and an outdoor bar, to the indoor tables and food stations with fresh crab cakes cooked to order and a stir-fry station, all done by the hotel’s chef and “absolutely amazing.”

     “We live in NoDa, so we’re kind of downtown already,” says Roth. “The location was great for what I envisioned for my wedding and for my guests. Being so close to the EpiCentre and other restaurants, bars and museums gave them a lot of options for things to do without having to drive anywhere.

     “We really wanted the downtown feel with the city lights from the Bank of America tower and the lights from the pool shining through the cover,” says Roth.

 

A Guest-Driven Experience

     Hotel Sierra places an incredible emphasis on unsurpassable service. The professional staff are proven leaders in their fields skilled at anticipating guests’ needs at every junction. The corporate playbook has been abandoned empowering each staff member to make decisions based on real-time circumstance rather than governed by a remote board of directors or big box bureaucracy. Customer service is, as they say, a “guest-driven experience.”

     Yvette Borrack is a regional sales manager with a Tampa-based company that has a sales office in uptown Charlotte with a need to hold meetings and house business visitors.

     Borrack first stayed at the Hotel Sierra Charlotte Center City in June when she chose it “because our meeting was last-minute and it was the only hotel in the uptown area that could accommodate our team.”

     One meeting sealed the deal.

     “Our entire team was so impressed that we negotiated a group rate with the hotel so that we could make it our destination hotel whenever anyone from our team travels to Charlotte,” she says.

     “Everyone on the staff seems genuinely concerned about your satisfaction with your stay,” Borrack continues. “When I checked in at the front desk, the attendant noted that I was going to be there for three nights and upgraded me since I was a multi-day guest.”

      When she met the Don Lockhart on the elevator, Borrack says he greeted her spontaneously with, “Good morning. How did you sleep? Are we exceeding your expectations?”

     “We are very proud of our hotels and our teams,” says LodgeWorks founder, chairman and CEO Rolf E. Ruhfus of the newly refreshed collection Hotel Sierra (formerly Sierra Suites Hotel), emphasizing their selective blend of unexpected details and pampering with authentic, comfortable lifestyle elements.

     “It is exciting to build a portfolio that brings value to our investors and teams and now to an industry-leading Hyatt. We respect the Hyatt heritage and culture and are very pleased to contribute to its growth,” continues Ruhfus.

     Indeed, Hyatt seems to have procured a remarkable asset in Hotel Sierra Charlotte Center City, as posited by one market analyst, “By expanding its reach domestically in the extended-stay category, we see positive longer-term implications as Hyatt looks to capture loyalty of emerging market travelers who would otherwise not be an addressable customer for its luxury and upper-upscale brands.”

     As for the rest of us, and certainly for Hyatt Hotels, Charlotte’s Hotel Sierra sparkles like a jewel in the Queen City’s crown.

Carol Gifford is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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