A major shift for old Radisson
The Theatre District mainstay is being transformed into a luxury hotel
The Radisson on Stuart Street is undergoing a radical renovation, morphing from a nondescript chain for business travelers into an independent luxury hotel with steel sculptures in the lobby, CD release parties in the lounge, and uniforms designed by students at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
The new Boston hotel, to be called the Revere, is getting a $27 million makeover from its new owner-operator, New York-based Northwood Hospitality, which bought the property in late 2010 from the Boston family that has o wned it since it opened as a Howard Johnson 40 years ago.
“It’s a pretty massive transformation,’’ said David McCaslin, president of Northwood Hospitality, which owns and manages three other hotels around the country. “This is essentially creating an all-new product for Boston.’’
The Revere will officially launch in late April without its Radisson brand - or Radisson prices. The hotel’s 356 rooms will run from $229 to $600 a night on peak dates, up from the current $99 to $400 rates.
The Boston luxury hotel market - with average daily room rates of $300 or more - bounced back last year, with revenue per available room increasing 8 percent, according to the consultancy Pinnacle Advisory Group.
With no new hotels opening in the past few years and demand continuing to grow, area hotels this year are expected to get back to the all-time highs in room rates and occupancy notched most recently in 2000.
Hotel management declined to give current booking figures for the Radisson, saying the construction has kept many of rooms out of service. By the fall, the hotel projects an occupancy rate of 87 percent, down from 94 percent last year, due to the price increase. The occupancy is still high by hotel standards, and the company expects a jump in revenue per available room of as much as 15 percent.
The transformation from the Radisson to the Revere is a “major repositioning’’ that speaks to the strength of the Boston hotel market, said Matthew Arrants, executive vice president at Pinnacle. Brand names often give hotels a competitive advantage, but in Boston, independent hotels often fare better than they do in other cities because of Boston’s unique history.
“There’s also a real appetite for independent hotels in Boston,’’ Arrants said. “People come and they want some of that authenticity, and they think they’re going to get it by staying in an independent hotel.’’
An increasing number of owners and developers are considering independent hotels instead of brand names, said Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s school of tourism. Hotel owners can make more money if they don’t have to hand over 6 to 12 percent of their revenues to a parent company, and the Internet has made unknown hotels accessible to everyone.
“It used to be that there had to be a brand before anyone could hear of it, and now anyone could type in ‘Boston hotel near Stuart Street’ and find this hotel,’’ Hanson said.
The Revere is doing its best to play up the city’s distinct elements - with a twist. In the lobby, the hotel is curating a selection of books about Boston, including offerings on Kindles and iPads. Room attendants will wear uniforms designed by MassArt students, bathrooms will be stocked with Skoah bath products (a Canadian company whose only US retail store is in the South End), and food and beverage offerings include Taza Chocolate (made in Somerville) and Bully Boy spirits (made in Boston).
The hotel’s $27 million renovation is modernizing the entire hotel, including the Stuart Street Playhouse movie theater on site. The lobby, formerly adorned with carpet and couches, is being reimagined as a contemporary space with steel sculptures inspired by the artist Richard Serra, metallic and white lacquer panels, and a sunken seating area. The Theatre Café’s red leather booths and chicken club sandwiches are being replaced by industrial light sculptures, DJs, and artisanal cheese plates in a bar called the Emerald Lounge.
The sixth-floor meeting space, once a drab gold- and mustard-colored room, will have an industrial loft look with exposed pipes, brick walls, and a polished concrete floor. Bland guest rooms will now be decked out with faux fur throws, houndstooth chaise lounges, and framed Shakespeare quotes.
The hotel, located a block from the W Boston, is looking to compete with hip, boutique properties like the W, the Liberty Hotel, and the Ames Hotel - a radically different peer group than hotels like the Sheraton and the Marriott that the Radisson currently goes head to head with.
Despite the flagging economy, the Theatre District is experiencing something of a building boom, with condo development, a small boutique hotel planned for Arlington Street, and a 55,000-square-foot hostel opening this year.
“We’re bringing this up to what the market needs in this area,’’ said Simon Mais, the Revere’s general manager.
The new hotel name has stumped some Bostonians, who associate the word Revere more with the working-class city north of Boston than the Revolutionary War hero or the synonym for “admire’’ that Northwood is going for. But, company president McCaslin points out, the hotel is going after tourists, not locals.
“To the outside world, that word is overwhelmingly positive,’’ he said.