|By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia
InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 16, 2011--With 268 rooms overlooking Independence Mall in the heart of what has been called the most historic square mile in the country, the four-star Hotel Monaco will be one of only two city hotels to open next year.
So Mayor Nutter gave it, and the 200 permanent jobs and 400 construction jobs it brings, an official welcome Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony where the 11-story Lafayette Building currently sits at Fifth and Chestnut Streets. The Monaco will take over the historic building after an $87 million adaptive-reuse conversion.
"We have long been awaiting this particular property," Nutter said, just before posing for photos with Niki Leondakis, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants president and chief operating officer. The duo donned hard hats and stood behind jackhammers and a pile of concrete cinder blocks and next to two "Monacans" -- mannequins dressed in leopard-skin robes.
For San Francisco-based Kimpton, this is a second investment in the city. In October 2009, it opened the 230-room, four-star Palomar at 17th and Sansom Streets in the former Architects Building -- another adaptive-reuse project, Kimpton's specialty.
Designed with the sophisticated world traveler in mind, the Monaco will feature brightly colored, whimsical, high-energy spaces filled with pieces that a traveler might have collected along the way.
The stylishly dressed mannequins at the groundbreaking represented that high-end demographic and are part of the new hotel's marketing strategy on Facebook, which uses the slogan "The fancy coats are coming."
For almost a decade, the Lafayette has sat vacant in the midst of a highly visible area -- a record four million visitors came through last year, said Meryl Levitz, head of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., who appeared alongside the mayor, Leondakis, and Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Kimpton bought the 195,000- square-foot former office building for $11.5 million from Northern Group of New York and closed on the deal in October.
When it opens next summer, the Monaco will be the first new hotel in the Society Hill/Old City area in a decade. The 350-room Hyatt Regency opened in 2000 at Penn's Landing. The 147-room Omni Hotel, which opened in 1990 at Independence Park, will be Monaco's direct competitor just a few doors down on Chestnut.
"This will bring some new life to the area's hotel supply and, frankly, upgrade the overall quality level of the hotel product in this part of the city," said Peter Tyson, vice president of PKF Consulting USA. "It should draw more upscale tourist and commercial demand to the area and offer an upscale lodging alternative for the more discriminating visitors."
The city's historic district has been on a building spree since 2001, when the Independence Visitor Center opened. Two years later came the Liberty Bell Pavilion and the National Constitution Center. Franklin Square opened in 2006, and last year brought the National Museum of American Jewish History, President's House, and the Historic Philadelphia Center.
"There was definitely pressure to step up with this property, given the location," said Leondakis. "I can tell you this will be our most fabulous Monaco yet. We are creating a 'wow' here."
The hotel will offer unobstructed views of Independence Hall and will feature a restaurant at the corner of Fifth and Chestnut, along with about 14,000 square feet of meeting space, 3,200 square feet of ballroom space, and a rooftop lounge seating up to 250.
The Monaco's 268 rooms will go for between $159 and $389 a night, depending on season and demand level. They will add to a Center City hotel inventory of about 10,700 rooms. Also opening next year will be the 136-unit Homewood Suites, which broke ground in December in University City.
But the total will still fall far short of the 2,000 additional rooms needed to support the bigger Convention Center, said Ferguson, who joked that he wished the Monaco could open earlier, in November.
Lack of hotel rooms remains an issue as convention officials such as Ferguson try to lure the largest gatherings here. "We need hotel rooms desperately," he said.
Hotel Monaco will be within walking distance of the Convention Center, several hospitals, and federal offices, so it will be able to serve leisure, group, government, and corporate travelers, said Ed Grose, executive director of the 87-member Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.
Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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