Alessandra Hopes to be a Big Player when the Super Bowl Returns

HOUSTON, TEXAS (March 26, 2014) by David Kaplan

An express elevator that whooshes guests to a 25th-floor lobby with skyline views during check-in. A sleek glass exterior that extends over a rooftop pool and bar. Room rates that soar among the highest in Houston. These are a few of the flourishes planned for the Hotel Alessandra, the latest lodging project announced for the eastern side of Houston’s downtown ahead of the Super Bowl’s return in 2017. “Looking at downtown, we really felt we needed to differentiate ourselves from hotels that already exist and the ones on the way,” Jamie Bryant, executive vice president of Midway, the company that will own the Alessandra, said Tuesday. The 225-room hotel will be built in the GreenStreet retail-office cluster formerly known as the Houston Pavilions. It will be adjacent to the Forever 21 clothing store, on a block bounded by Main, Dallas, Polk and Fannin.

Midway hopes to position the hotel among such five-star accommodations as the Four Seasons, St. Regis and Hotel Granduca. The company declined to say how much the project will cost or specify what guests will be charged. But Bryant said rates likely will be on par with the downtown Four Seasons, where rooms for Thursday night were advertised online starting at $430 for a “city view room” and rising to $8,800 for the “presidential suite north.” That level of luxury has been in short supply locally, compared to other cities of its size, hospitality consultants say. Lodging here traditionally is competitive, and the city has had relatively low room rates, said Rich Warnick, president of Warnick + Co., a Phoenix based advisory and asset management firm for the hospitality industry. But Houston is evolving, he said, and continues to mature and build on its strong economy. “Luxury is one of the stronger-performing segments in the industry,” Warnick said, “so maybe Houston’s time has come.”

Will be ready for bowl

The Alessandra will be built on the site of the former Yao Restaurant & Bar. Bryant said demolition work will begin in June and the hotel plans to open in the third quarter of 2016, in time for the Super Bowl crowds expected for the big game. “The Super Bowl is not going to make us or break us from a financial standpoint,” Bryant said. “But you’d hate to miss it for the marketing and exposure, even a global exposure, given the people who will be visiting Houston.”

Joins new competitors

The Alessandra joins at least four other planned or recently opened hotel projects within walking distance of the George R. Brown Convention Center that are receiving financial breaks. The quasipublic Houston First Corp. has agreed to give Midway a rebate of 50 percent of the city’s portion of its hotel occupancy tax in exchange for giving priority to convention groups and including ground-floor retail, Houston First executive Peter McStravick said. The Alessandra will have 7,000 square feet of retail. Midway will own the hotel. Co-investor Valencia Group will design and operate it, Bryant said. Houston-based Valencia also operates the Hotel Sorella at Midway’s City-Centre in west Houston. It also has hotels in San Antonio, Austin and San Jose, Calif. The Alessandra will be its first luxury hotel.

Good timing

Randy McCaslin, practice leader at the Houston office of hospitality consulting group PKF, said the project’s timing looks right. “I think there is a need for more luxury hotels in Houston,” he said. McCaslin said the Alessandra will be more modern than the other local luxury hotels, noting that the St. Regis near River Oaks and Four Seasons were built in the 1980s. The Hotel Granduca in the Uptown Park area is newer but smaller than the future Alessandra, he said. “The Alessandra will likely be a type of hotel we don’t have downtown, a very high-end contemporary project,” said Bob Eury, president of Central Houston. Midway CEO Jonathan Brinsden added, “It will step outside the stuffiness of what is traditionally described as luxury.” It will meld touches of old Europe with more whimsical elements, he said.

Fit for GreenStreet

GreenStreet opened in 2008, during an economically challenging time, and the developers had difficulty finding a component other than retail and office, Eury said. “It needed a third use, either residential or hotel, and I think this will be a really great fit,” he said. GreenStreet is 79 percent leased, Bryant said.