Cambria Hotel Breaks Ground Before It’s Ground
No actual ground was broken in this morning’s ceremony at the site of the future Cambria Hotel and Suites on the Avenue of the Arts, but it was a groundbreaking event all the same.
Groundbreaking because it marks Cambria parent Choice Hotels’ first venture into the upper end of the Center City Philadelphia market. Its closest previous foray, a mid-range Comfort Inn at Penn’s Landing, changed hands several years ago and is now a Holiday Inn Express. (There are also two franchised Choice affiliates catering to the budget traveler in Center City: a Sleep Inn on Race Street in Chinatown and a Rodeway Inn on Walnut Street in Washington Square West’s Midtown Village/Gayborhood section.)
Choice Hotels executives, the hotel’s developer and its architect, and representatives of the city’s tourism promotion machine all turned out this morning to celebrate the hotel’s impending construction and welcome Choice back into the thick of things.
“Philly is a huge destination for conventioneers and business travelers,” said Choice Hotels CEO Steve Joyce. “Almost 40 million people visit the city each year. We are relatively underrepresented, and this is a perfect start for us to be downtown in a site that has everything.” In his remarks at the ceremony, he stated his company’s modest goals for this property: “We hope that 23 million of them walk by and at least have a drink on our rooftop.
“We have several million people who call us asking for rooms in downtown Philadelphia, and at last we will be able to satsify them,” he continued.
The project is a “perfect storm” of sorts, marrying a leading hotel chain, a development company with a track record of quality projects and an architectural firm known for producing elegant modern designs tailored to the hospitality industry’s needs.
Pearl Properties founder and CEO Jim Pearlstein noted that this was his company’s first hotel project as well. In his remarks at the event, he called the hotel’s Broad and Locust corner site “a really special corner” and said that he looked forward to building something that “will last a long, long time,” joining such historic properties as the Academy of Music and the Bellevue as well as “Carl Dranoff’s fantastic developments.”
David Schultz, principal of the hotel’s designer, DAS Architects, also noted that this was the first new building of any kind on South Broad Street in more than a quarter century. “This stretch of Broad Street, from Locust to City Hall, is chock full of beautiful early 1900s buildings,” he said. “This property, the old concrete garage and the two-story buildings, was perfect for development.”
The hotel will combine the redesigned two-story buildings with a new tower on the garage site that will contain the 222 guest rooms. (That’s up from the 206 the tower contained when the project was announced last fall. Choice Hotels Director of Development Guy Ridley said, “Philly is such a great hotel market, we want to get as many rooms as we can.”) Some of the suites will have angled floor-to-ceiling windows offering views up Broad Street to City Hall. The second floor will contain the hotel’s extra-large lobby, a Cambria signature intended to promote socializing, and meeting facilities. Several new restaurants and retail space will occupy the entire ground floor, and there will be a rooftop bar and lounge atop the tower.
The lobby will also have its own terrace overlooking Broad Street, “a fabulous place to watch the [Mummers] parade,” Schultz said. The ceremony even began with a parade of its own as a Mummers string band detachment entered the tent playing “When You’re Smiling,” which those assembled certainly were.
Both Joyce and Choice Hotels Senior Vice President for Upscale Brands Janis Cannon expressed delight at the hotel’s site, which Joyce called “a poster child for us” in her remarks at the ceremony. “It’s important that we have these key, iconic locations,” said Camron in hers. Ridley explained beforehand, “We were scouring the city for the best site, and then we met the guys at Pearl Properties, and it turns out they’re connected all over the city. We eventually started talking about this site; as soon as they brought it to us, we fell in love with it. We feel it’s the best site in the city right now.”
“You’re coming at exactly the right time,” said Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia. “As visitation rises, so does our need for new hotels, new shops, new restaurants.”
Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce CEO Rob Wonderling applauded both Cambria and Pearl in his remarks. He said of the hotel that it “is indicative of the future of the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection,” and he went on to say, “The Pearlsteins are committed to this city. their work in reshaping the downtown environment is standard-setting.”
It was perhaps noteworthy that Pearlstein and Pearl Properties principal Reed Slogoff both took to the podium at today’s event, for Pearl also has a reputation for working quietly but diligently behind the scenes to assemble and shape its projects.
The parking garage that the hotel will replace is still in the middle of being demolished. Actual construction of the hotel will begin this summer, and the hotel should open for business in 2017 as one of 17 to 20 Cambria hotels Choice will open that year. Joyce called this one and one now open in New York “the most important hotels we’ve built” under this brand.
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