|By David Kaplan, Houston
ChronicleMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Sep. 27, 2006 - STANDING in the lobby of his elegant Granduca hotel, Giorgio Borlenghi looked like he belonged there.
A handsome man in fine Italian clothing, he spoke in a soft voice while piped-in classical music played in the Italian villa-style hotel set to open Thursday. Beyond the courtyard, featuring a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and fountain, was a cluster of tall trees.
Borlenghi would like you to consider this your home away from home -- those of you who can afford it.
The Uptown Park-area Granduca is homier than most upscale hotels. Some suites have kitchens, dining and living rooms. A high-end version of an extended-stay hotel, it has no restaurant or ballroom.
"It's exclusively for the people staying here," Borlenghi said.
The Granduca opens at a plum time. Local hotel occupancy is the highest it's been in decades, noted Joan Johnson, president of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston.
John Keeling, senior vice president of PKF, a hotel and restaurant consulting firm, added that luxurious extended-stay hotels like the Granduca don't represent a trend in the U.S. hotel industry.
"It's a Giorgio Borlenghi innovation," he said. "But if he's successful with it, I expect to see more."
Houston has a shortage of luxury hotels, given the city's size, Keeling said, adding that technically the Granduca is not a luxury hotel.
A luxury hotel must meet two criteria, one being its physical presence, which includes quality of furniture, fixtures and equipment, and size of rooms, he said. And on that level, the Granduca is easily a luxury-caliber hotel.
However, the Granduca does not meet a luxury hotel's standards of service, such as multiple dining outlets that would include a high-end restaurant, said Keeling, who did consulting work for the Granduca.
Locally, only the Four Seasons, St. Regis and Omni Houston Hotel rate "five diamonds" in AAA's ranking for luxury hotels, Keeling noted.
Another category of upscale hotel is the boutique, which in Houston includes the Alden, Icon, Lancaster and Inn at the Ballpark. Boutique hotels have a particular theme or point of view, he said.
The Granduca, meanwhile, is intended for "the longer-term guest who wants to feel he's at home," Keeling said, such as "the guy whose Tanglewood home is being remodeled or the well-heeled guy who had a fight with his wife."
The Granduca is also meant for business travelers and international visitors, Borlenghi said.
"We think the Mexican visitor is going to be a very important part of our clientele base," he said. "We've already done a full year of marketing in Mexico."
Named after Granduca Adalberto Malatesta, a 16th-century Italian duke, the six-story hotel has 130 rooms in several sizes, including a 425-square-foot Deluxe that goes for $260 per day; an 825-square-foot one-bedroom suite for $380; a 1,250-square-foot two-bedroom suite for $540; and a 2,100-square-foot three-bedroom suite at $960.
Weekly rates range from $1,638 to $6,048.
While the Granduca has no restaurant, guests can order from the menu of a nearby restaurant, Masraff's, and within 30 minutes have dinner served in their rooms.
The Granduca also has modern elements such as WiFi and plasma HDTV.
The Granduca's interior, rich in terra cotta and gold, was designed by Ermy Borlenghi Bonfield, Giorgio's sister.
The elevator interiors feature mosaic floors and oil paintings of Italian landscapes.
"Being Italian, we wanted to create something reminiscent of an Italian palace," Giorgio Borlenghi said.
Borlenghi is best known in Houston for his condominiums and office buildings, many of which surround the Granduca.
His Four-Leaf Towers condominiums and Four Oaks Place office complex near Uptown Park were designed by his friend, famed architect Cesar Pelli.
Borlenghi also developed Uptown Park, a European-style shopping center across the street from the Granduca. He sold the center last year to AmReit for $69 million.
Before moving from Italy to Houston to start his development company, Interfin, in 1978, he was project manager for his family's developments in Milan and Rome. He is a licensed structural engineer.
Other upscale Houston hotels go after the extended-stay guest, although they are not focused on the market as is the Granduca. For example, the Four Seasons has furnished apartments ranging from $5,000 to $8,000 per month.
Borlenghi said he realizes that a hotel is a challenging business.
"It's not only costly, but it takes a long while to establish yourself," he said.
Copyright (c) 2006, Houston Chronicle
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