When it comes to developing neighborhoods in cities across the U.S., hotels are reliable forebears. Oftentimes the first domino to fall, they have the ability to steadily transform enclaves from sleepy to thriving. Whether these neighborhoods begin to fill up with restaurants, galleries, shops or housing developments, there’s no denying the cultural impact that quality hotels can have on once-overlooked urban areas. From a notorious nook of Boston to a Milwaukee trendsetter, here are 11 hotels across the U.S. that have helped revitalize neighborhoods in their own special ways.
The Godfrey, Boston
A stone’s throw from theatre houses and Boston Common, one could easily assume that Downtown Crossing in Boston has long been a hot spot for locals and visitors alike. But that’s not really the case, and The Godfrey has played an integral role in shifting the tides since it opened in 2016. The hotel, which does a beautiful job of blending its historic facade with contemporary furnishings, has been a game-changer for a neighborhood with a sleepy past, once primarily known for its cluster of department stores. Nowadays, the neighborhood is among the most bustling in Boston, thanks in large part to The Godfrey’s impressive street presence as the first modern hotel in the area and one with a stylish coffee shop, George Howell Coffee, and an incredible Peruvian restaurant, RUKA, both on the ground floor. For evidence of increased foot traffic in Downtown Crossing, look no further than the perpetual line outside the door for RUKA, or the pleasant hum of customers, passersby, locals and visitors all mingling together in the cozy, chic lobby.
Westin Poinsett, Greenville
Strolling along Main Street in Greenville, South Carolina, most would find it impossible to imagine the area as anything but popular. But prior to the award-winning Westin Poinsett’s opening, that wasn’t quite the case. The location where the hotel sits has quite the storied past, one that’s steadily evolved over time to become a reliable trailblazer for the area. For 100 years, it served as the Mansion House Hotel before being demolished in 1924 to make way for the Poinsett Hotel. Over the ensuing decades, a series of ups and downs left the opulent hotel largely empty until new owners purchased it and renovated it in 1997. Perched at the end of Main Street at the intersection of Court Street, the hotel has been an icon overlooking the neighborhood, and along with renovations came new restaurants, like the acclaimed Soby’s New South Cuisine, new boutique shops, an art museum, a 32-acre park and more. As only the second full-service hotel on Main Street, the Westin Poinsett helped put Greenville on the map in a big way. The Aloft, Marriott Courtyard and Embassy Suites have all followed, each located within a half mile of the Westin. Nowadays, Greenville is one of the fasted growing tourist destinations in the U.S., with hotels regularly clocking in at 90% occupancy.
Aparium Hotel Group, Milwaukee, Detroit and Beyond
Of all the hotel groups in the country, Aparium Hotel Group has had the most visible, tangible impact when it comes to not only spurring cultural development in urban neighborhoods, but adapting to each and every unique setting. Along with properties like Hotel Covington in Covington, Kentucky, and the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis, two great examples are The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee and the brand-new Detroit Foundation Hotel in Detroit (pictured above). According to Aparium co-founder and COO Kevin Robinson, the group seeks out secondary markets for their hotels, as these are places typically saturated with mundane hotels lacking identity. “These smaller markets are so rich in history, so authentic in the integrity of where was born from,” he says. “Our desire is to embrace that, to figure out how to celebrate that.” He describes their hotels as the “anti-brand," rich with local character designed to appeal equally to transients and locals, each property individually branded and wholly distinct. The Iron Horse, located in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward neighborhood, paints a great picture. Formerly a warehouse district, it’s really blown up in popularity since The Iron Horse trotted into town nine years ago. It’s been the market leader for rate and occupancy, with new hotels popping up nearby and the number of restaurants and bars practically tripling. This bodes well for Aparium’s Detroit Foundation Hotel as well, a property with a mission that ties in perfectly with the whole “rising from the ashes” renaissance happening in Michigan’s biggest—and most notorious—city. It’s housed in the original fire department headquarters, which Aparium bought around the same time Detroit declared bankruptcy four years ago. “Similar to The Iron Horse, we’re anchoring something special and unique that’s off the beaten path,” explains Robinson. The hotel is outfitted with one of the city’s most hotly anticipated restaurants of the year, the Apparatus Room, manned by esteemed former Chicago chef Thomas Lents.
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn
While Brooklyn’s surging popularity over the past decade is undeniable, most of that has been centered around neighborhoods like Williamsburg, while places like DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights glide under the radar, long regarded as passover areas for Manhattan residents and tourists flocking elsewhere. But thanks to recently opened 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, that’s all changing. The first full-blown hotel in DUMBO and the first ground-up property for the 1 Hotels brand, it’s a meaningful marker for a brand that’s long championed the notion of sustainability and neighborhood roots. At once appealing to locals and travelers both regionally and internationally, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge offers an authentic taste of local life in DUMBO, outfitted with local vendors in its food and beverage offerings, amenities and decor. By encouraging increased foot traffic to the area, the hotel celebrates an underrated neighborhood in an exciting new way, bringing some of that Williamsburg excitement to another deserving part of Brooklyn.
Four Seasons Hotel, Seattle
Across the street from the Seattle Art Museum and world-famous Pike Place Market, the 1st Avenue corridor of Seattle deserved a good hotel that would anchor the neighborhood in a positive, enriching way. And that’s precisely what the Four Seasons Hotel did when it opened in 2008. Prior to opening, no one stayed in that part of town and despite its proximity to lauded destinations, it had a seedy reputation lined with shady streets and the infamous Lusty Lady bar. Now, it’s one of the most popular hotels downtown, along with one of the area’s most popular restaurants, Goldfinch Tavern, which just so happens to be run by one of the city’s most popular restaurateurs, Ethan Stowell. According to the hotel’s director of human resources, Michael Hirschler, the area below the intersection of Pike and First was a real void in Seattle. Not only did few travelers venture there, but it was relatively desolate and known mostly for facilities geared towards a sexual nature (see: Lusty Lady). “When you took the Four Seasons and combined it with the Art Museum across the street, suddenly there’s a new vibrance to this particular corner that started the ball rolling on filling in that void,” says Hirschler. Indeed, over the past eight years things have filled in nicely. The hotel features two leased retail spaces, Fran’s Chocolates and Fonté Coffee, both of which have helped bolster the street life in the area. Additionally, a spiffy Starbucks Reserve shop opened a couple doors down and a boutique hotel is taking shape in the former Lusty Lady, all on the heels of the Four Seasons’ innovation. “Our block has mirrored the changes to our city over the past eight years,” Hirschler adds. “We’ve really become a neighborhood representative.”
Kimpton Gray Hotel, Chicago
The Financial District in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood has long been rightfully stereotypes as a bit of a ghost town after office hours and on weekends. While the neighborhood bustles with hundreds of thousands of office workers by day, it’s long been eerily quiet after 6:00 p.m. most days. That all started to change when the Kimpton Gray Hotel put down roots in a historic architectural gem of a building in 2016. The esteemed hotel brand, which also operates the Hotel Palomar, Hotel Allegro and Hotel Monaco elsewhere in Chicago, gave locals a reason to stay out late in the Loop and encouraged tourists to stay in a part of town they might normally overlook. Not only is the Gray stylish and hip, but it’s Vol. 39 cocktail bar is routinely packed and its Latin-leaning rooftop restaurant Boleo has become an instant hit with Chicagoans and visitors alike. Since the Gray made its debut, the Loop has welcomed other popular hits like Revival Food Hall, The Dearborn tavern and Steadfast, a fine dining restaurant on the hotel’s ground floor.
Conrad Miami, Miami
Over the past several years in Miami, tourists have started to look beyond South Beach and into other neighborhoods of the culturally rich city. Chief among those neighborhoods is Brickell, an area that’s undergone a revolutionary revival in recent years thanks to properties like the Conrad Miami. Once a sleepy stretch of streets populated with small banks, now it’s chock full of restaurants, fashion outlets, bars and hotels. The neighborhood’s population has doubled since 2004, the same year the hotel opened, making it among the first hotels in Brickell. After the Conrad paved the way, now the neighborhood boasts a whopping 3,000 hotel rooms, along with feverishly popular clubs and restaurants like Komodo, Bazaar Mar by José Andrés and Pubbelly. The biggest example of Brickell’s metamorphosis, though, is the billion dollar Brickell City Centre, a mixed-use shopping center anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and dine-in CMX movie theater, with an Italian food hall on the way later this year.
The 404 Hotel, Nashville
All across Nashville, the city has been buzzing with increased tourism, new residents and increased development. The Gulch neighborhood is a particularly apt example, one that’s been flourishing since pioneers like The 404 Hotel put down roots in 2014. It was the first hotel option in the core of the neighborhood when it opened, preempting the explosion of popularity that ensued. This is a far cry from The Gulch’s former reputation as a railroad yard, which was mostly neglected for almost 50 years until the early 2000s. The boutique hotel helped put The Gulch on the map in a bold new way, something the on-site 404 Kitchen has done for Nashville’s increasingly lauded restaurant scene. On the heels of The 404 Hotel’s success, The Thompson Hotel also opened in the area in 2016.
The Bungalow Hotel, Long Branch
Big cities aren’t the only places where hotels have helped ignite cultural development. In Long Branch, New Jersey, The Bungalow Hotel has become a local keystone that’s taken the seaside locale from seasonal beach haunt to year round destination. When it opened in 2009, it was the Jersey Shore’s first boutique luxury hotel, and in subsequent years the Pier Village area of Long Branch has blossomed with shops, restaurants and residences. For a famously seasonal part of the country, once devoid of visitors in the off-season months after Labor Day, the Bungalow Hotel’s average year round occupancy rate of 75% is an impressive feat that speaks to the hotel’s lasting impact on Pier Village. According to hotel general manager Julian Payne, Long Branch has had its significant ups and downs over the years, from its heyday in the ’70’s and ’80’s as the place to come to for its thriving boardwalk, water park, arcades and ice cream shops. “In the ’80’s, there was a big fire and it went downhill from there,” explains Payne. But from the fire came rebirth and rejuvenation. “The owners saw an opportunity to make things better and they had the vision to do that.” Payne describes the area’s construction boom (including hundreds of new condos) as an opportunity to build a community, one that remains vigorous 365 days a year thanks to destinations like the hotel’s sister restaurant, Avenue, and Long Branch’s continued reputation as a theatrical epicenter. There’s a popular music scene in nearby Asbury Park, plenty of beach parties, concerts in West Bend and more.
The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki
On Oahu, the Kuhio Avenue enclave of Waikiki Beach is undergoing a renaissance filled with cultural infusion, growth and expansion, and it’s all thanks to trendsetting hotels like The Ritz-Carlton Residences. Offering world-class and unparalleled luxury, the striking property became the latest glistening addition to Waikiki’s skyline in nearly seven years. Attracting high-end clientele from across the globe, the property boasts resort-style living with expansive ocean views, an incredible spa and Hawaii’s first Dean & DeLuca market. It’s all part of the overall rebirth of Waikiki’s Kuhio Avenue, an area once plagued by downtrodden businesses, seedy bars and dingy alleyways. In recent years, the tides have shifted with the opening of new hotels like The Ritz-Carlton, the reopening of International Market Place and STRIPSTEAK Waikiki, the first Hawaii venture for celebrity chef Michael Mina.
The Hotel on North, Pittsfield
In the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts, Pittsfield has long been overshadowed by its high-end next door neighbor, Lenox. But things are coming together nicely for Pittsfield, thanks to popular fixtures like the Hotel on North. Located on the Western end of North Street, the hotel features food and cocktails at EAT + DRINK and acclaimed chef Ron Reda, who formerly cooked at the White House under Bill Clinton. The hotel’s had a significant effect on the general area at large, including a regional theatre expansion one block away, a retail shop called Dory + Ginger attached to the hotel, a hip cocktail bar called Methusela, a tapas restaurant called Mission and lots more. A big part of the hotel’s success and its impact on the town is its involvement with preservation and community outreach. The property’s very involved with the community, frequently hosting events for organizations like the Berkshire Leadership Program. Additionally, The Hotel on North was just given the prestigious 2017 Paul & Niki Tsongas Award for its preservation efforts in Pittsfield.
Written by Matt Kirouac
Read more posts by Matt Kirouac