Developer Randy Salvatore plans to buy a lot on the corner of George and High Streets, now that the city’s given him the necessary approvals to revive a plan to build a hotel there for long-term guests.
At Wednesday’s City Plan meeting, the commissioners unanimously signed off on Salvatore’s site plan review, allowing him to erect a six-story, 108-room hotel at 323 George St. that’s expected to cost $8 million.
The hotel — a “boutique hotel,” part of an emerging trend in cities across the country as an alternative to recognizable outposts of larger chains — would replace a budget car rental company and its surface parking lot that currently occupy one of the last undeveloped corners of New Haven’s booming downtown. Under Salvatore’s revision of an original plan for the hotel, the new establishment will add a restaurant on the ground floor. Meeting rooms and a rooftop garden will be available for rent as an event space.
Also in the blueprints, an historic 5,000-square-foot home at 15 High St. will be renovated into four apartments.
If the plans sound familiar, that’s because they’re largely unchanged (except for the restaurant) from an extended-stay hotel that the City Plan Commission approved in December 2015. Back then, Mod Equities, New York siblings Josef and Jacob Feldman’s family investment company that’s also been approved to put up 64 apartments above Harold’s bridal shop, was making the pitch to commissioners.
The hotel would complete the transformation of a once lower-rent block into a mecca of upscale development projects.
But before construction on the hotel could begin, the Feldmans hand run into trouble securing financing, given the unusual extended-stay model. Mod’s broker informed them of lucrative sales on the Elm City’s hot market (including a $1.3 million profit by the city’s economic development chief Matthew Nemerson), and with that intel, the Feldman brothers decided to entertain offers for a sale.
On Wednesday evening, Salvatore confirmed he has a contract to purchase the property, but he hasn’t closed yet. With the approvals Wednesday, the deal will now proceed, he said. “We’ll gear up and get going. We’ll tear down that little building and start construction,” he added, expecting a 14-month process.
How much will Salvatore pay for the lot based on his negotiations with the Feldmans? “I have [a price] in mind. But it’s [staying] in my mind,” he said laughing, pointing to his temple. “I can’t really give that out.”
Boutique hotels are rising in smaller cities across the country. That’s likely because tourists are increasingly seeking genuine experiences, according to a recent New York Times trend piece. Tourists believe they’ll be more likely to find that in lodging with fewer rooms and unique characteristics, rather than familiar chains. Social media also makes it easier for a small hotelier, as guests “post their distinctive experiences on Instagram or Facebook,” an industry analyst told the Times. Salvatore has already built boutique hotels in other cities.
Under Salvatore’s new direction, the plans have tweaked slightly. The layout has been reconfigured to clump all the building’s amenities together on the first floor. And the rooftop patio has been expanded to accommodate more guests. “If you look at our residential buildings, we don’t have balconies, because I think people don’t use a balcony by themselves. But yet when we congregate it into a rooftop, it has more value,” Salvataore explained of the revision. “People want to be around people.”
Perhaps the biggest change is a semantic one. The Feldmans called their project a short-term rental; Salvatore calls his an “extended-stay hotel.”
Several commissioners Wednesday night wondered aloud, What’s the difference?
The new establishment is geared toward Yale fellows, corporate consultants and others who will be staying in New Haven for several months — not long enough to make the hassle of finding and furnishing an apartment worthwhile, the developer said. While overnight guests will be welcomed, Salvatore noted that the built-in kitchenettes in each room will attract those with longer time frames.
Because there would be no permanent residents, the project needs only six parking spots and 12 racks for bikes.
Salvatore said he believes that the hotel will fill up with a new type of guest that hasn’t previously considered New Haven a feasible option. “The idea is not to pull people from somewhere else,” like the Study or the Omni, he argued. “I really think it’s an unmet need in the community that we’ll fill.”
Commissioner Adam Marchand, a Westville alder, asked for more clarification. The prior applicants made it sound like a boarding house, he said. But now it seems a person could “come in and say, ‘Do you have a room for me tonight?’ without a letter from their employer.”
“Originally, you could do that as well,” Salvatore answered. He went on to clarify, “It really is a lot more open to the public coming in. That’s why, on the ground floor, you could come in and have a cup of coffee, a cocktail, lunch and dinner. It’s really open to the outside.”
Given the new direction, Marchand asked him to consider adding signage and opening up the streetscape.
Once the papers are signed, the hotel will join Salvatore’s growing portfolio of Elm City properties. He built the Novella, a $40 million, 136-unit luxury building at the corner of Chapel and Howe Streets, then put it on the market. Salvatore also has plans for a massive development of 140 apartments (30 percent of them affordable), 7,000 square feet of retail, 120,000 square feet of research space and 50,000 square feet of offices on 11.6 acres of mostly vacant lots between Congress Avenue and Church Street South in the Hill neighborhood.