Mitch says the idea to build his first independent hotel came about a few years ago when he was considering what to do with a one-acre tract Vision Hospitality acquired next to Chattanooga’s Bluff View Arts District. A vacant one-story brick office building occupied the site. Mitch earmarked it for a branded limited-service hotel – again, a prototypical plan.
Much to the amiable hotelier’s surprise his hometown neighbors pushed back. Although city leaders and district residents did not appreciate the eyesore that stood on the corner, they liked even less the idea of another branded hotel taking its place. They feared even more unbridled commercialization of their neighborhood.
Mitch went back to the drawing board. He thought in earnest about the best and highest use of the site. In the process, he underwent a change in mindset, a refocusing. He saw the land as not a development site but a rare opportunity to design and build something new for Vision Hospitality and for his hometown.
“When I travel, I am always looking for independent, unique hotels that have a sense of place, where you feel like you have experienced the city or local community. We do it through food. We do it through art. We do it through the hotels we stay at. Chattanooga did not have anything like that. This was a fantastic location where The Edwin is today.”
The hotel’s design gives a huge nod to the adjacent Walnut Street Bridge, the steel truss structure designed by Edwin Thatcher in the 1890s. The former highway bridge spans the Tennessee River, connecting Chattanooga’s north and south sides. Restored and reopened in 1993, it is the longest pedestrian bridge in the country. “It is our Eiffel Tower,” Mitch said. “It is very much celebrated.”
Mitch took his revised hotel-development plan to the city, which agreed to rezone the lot from residential to commercial.
The Edwin opened in September. It’s an upper upscale hotel with 90 rooms, a full-service restaurant, a coffee shop and a rooftop bar. The top floor also has meeting and ballroom space as well as a library.
WATCH: GM Greg Bradley shares what’s unique about The Edwin.
Although developing the hotel was overwhelming task, it stoked Mitch’s imagination as to what could be. As big of a step as developing The Edwin was for Vision Hospitality, Mitch took an even bigger leap when it formed Humanist Hospitality and its proprietary brand Kinley.
The Edwin is Humanist Hospitality’s first independent boutique hotel. The division’s portfolio also includes the Moxy by Marriott in Denver, the first new-build Moxy in the U.S. Humanist has three more independent boutique hotels in the pipeline and several more branded lifestyle hotels. Also under the Humanist umbrella are about eight restaurants and bars in the pipeline, all connected to its hotels.
“We thought that if we want to be successful, we need to start thinking a little bit differently because boutique and lifestyle are different from mainstream select- and full-service branded hotels,” Mitch said.
Mitch’s change in mindset positioned Vision Hospitality to not only take advantage of emerging trends in independent and boutique hotel development, but to carve a new path in the sector. The Edwin’s price point is high end. But Mitch wants to build hotels that cater to a broader traveler demographic. This is where Kinley comes in.
“The number-one question I get when I am on a panel about boutique or lifestyle hotels, a young person says, ‘This sounds great but I can’t afford it. I don’t have the wallet for it.’
“It’s amazing – young people will pay $15 to $20 for a martini,” but they can’t pony up $300 to $400 a night for a hotel, he observed.
“I think there’s a disconnect between what we are trying to design and that audience and their wallets.
“With Kinley, there is a huge opportunity to introduce a fantastic boutique hotel in many markets where they are under-represented. We felt like there is a missing component and an opportunity to create a hotel that absolutely has a sense of place, an independent spirit that gives you a taste of the localness through art and design and the B&F.
“We want a truly local and authentic experience. More and more people are looking for that. And we want to be able to provide that, but – and here’s the catch – at not a much greater rate than a Hampton Inn.”
Turns out, Mitch is on the right track, says Kim Bardoul, co-author of The Highland Group’s annual Boutique Hotel Report. There’s a void of affordable boutique product, she said. And developers like Mitch are acting to fill it. Creating a collection of products like Kinley is a wise move. There is plenty of room for mid-priced hotels. Of all independent boutique hotels in the U.S., Bardoul said, only 8 percent fall in the moderate-price segment.
Vision Hospitality’s first Kinley will open in Cincinnati. It bought a 110-year-old building in its downtown and started renovation in the fall. This winter, Vision will start on a new-build Kinley in Chattanooga’s south side.
Kinley’s focus is tertiary and secondary markets. No matter where they land, Kinley will bring new dining and bar concepts to their neighborhoods.
In Cincinnati, the three-meal-a-day restaurant is being developed in a partnership with Celeb Chef Ed Lee. In Chattanooga, the Kinley will have a lobby bar with small plates and an F&B outlet.
Indicating a new understanding of food and beverage trends, Mitch flips the acronym from F&B to B&F. Spending in hotel bars and restaurants increased by 5 percent in 2017, reported the BevSpot. Today’s boutique- and lifestyle-hotel developers are more focused than ever on the bar and restaurant scene, allotting as much space for F&B outlets as they do for rooms. Creativity and mindfulness reign as well.
Each restaurant and bar in a Kinley will depend on the local market, more specifically what is missing there.
“Just like a hotel. You don’t just build a hotel randomly. If there are 20 there, you have to find an angle,” Mitch said. “With The Edwin we wanted to do something unique, something that was missing in the market, that the community would embrace. It’s the same approach you have to take with the restaurant or bar concept in the hotel.”
Giving concrete shape to the new mindset for Vision Hospitality is Ashley Ewing Parrott. A former employee of Marriott International and now head of Humanist Hospitality. The division includes branded lifestyle hotels such as Marriott’s Moxy Hotel that Vision opened last year in Denver. It also manages The Edwin. Under development are the two Kinleys in Cincinnati and Chattanooga as well as a luxury boutique hotel called The Grady in Louisville, Kentucky.
Nicolas Graf, associate dean, clinical professor and chair of New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, will soon unveil the school’s new Hospitality Innovation Hub. Departure from the norms of doing business is key to the post-pandemic survival and success of the hospitality industry, says Graf. Companies that offer flexibility in thought and practice among employees will go a long way in leading the industry’s post-pandemic recovery. Episode 331 of Lodging Leaders explores what it will take for owners, operators and others invested in the industry to attract and retain bright young talent who can help build modern and sustainable hotel business models.
Bijal Patel, 31, is CEO of Coast Redwood Hospitality and the youngest chair of the California Hotel & Lodging Association. He’s made even more history at CHLA by agreeing to serve an unprecedented second term as the lodging industry emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Patel is a third-generation hotelier. Being so steeped in hospitality at such a young age is not new for members of the Indian American hotelier community, but Patel fears the pandemic has drained the industry of emerging talent. Lodging Leaders spotlights Patel, who represents a leadership demographic that is fighting for the life of the hospitality industry as they watch their peers veer toward other career paths.