Opening Night: Three Mega Hotel Brands Launch Chicago Triplex in River North
One of the hippest and fastest-growing sections of Chicago is host to an innovative business experiment. It's never been done before and people can't stop talking about it.
River North had the bold and the beautiful mingling Wednesday night to launch a collective of hotels — Aloft, Hyatt Place and Fairfield Inn & Suites — all within steps of each other on the 515 N. Clark Street block, a hospitality trio developed by a deep bench of talented hotel pros, political players and a trendsetting restaurant maven. Led by Friedman Properties, White Lodging Services Corporation and Lettuce Entertain You, the whole complex is visionary stuff, poised to capitalize on the area's expanding cachet with locals and tourists.
Friedman Properties — with more than $1 billion in mixed-use developments slated to come online in River North over the next five years — has long been a torchbearer behind the re-imagining of a once-marginal pocket of the city with a questionable rap sheet that now gleams with marquee luxury living spaces. The neighborhood has itself become a desirable brand.
Just listen to Alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward. “We’re trying to build as many beds as we can to satisfy our growing international business population,” he says. Reilly, a core member of the brain trust and on board from the first scrawls, said his job was to review the initial set of plans, "so we could take it through the entire zoning process." The development broke ground in November 2011 and added another 300 jobs to Reilly's ward, already a mini boomtown of new construction and rehabs. “Obviously, this being River North and strategically located to the Magnificent Mile and Riverwalk, I think this is great news for Chicago.”
“We call this hotel 'The Triplex,'” says Bryan Hayes, COO of White Lodging, a powerhouse in the hospitality space with more than 162 hotels in its portfolio. “It’s very unique to have three separate master brands all in one complex,” he said, a refrain echoed repeatedly. Nothing quite like this has ever been attempted before. And creating synergy proved complex, especially considering that each hotel serves a different demographic.
For instance, Aloft, the young rebel in the trio, has 272 guest suites and is aimed at Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers and Millennials who identify with its "re:charge," "re:fuel" and "re:mix" slogans and the pulse of its WXYZ bar. It marks the first urban Aloft in the Midwest, according to Craig Pearson, general manager of Aloft Chicago City Center. Next, the Hyatt Place/Chicago River North serves up 212 rooms aimed at the Pottery Barn/Crate and Barrel/soccer mom traveler market. This group wants a "home away from home" vibe, says Hayes. To top off the niches there's the Fairfield Inn & Suites with 180 rooms. A bit more conservative (but never dull), this brand oozes reliability and is where the budget-minded business traveler plugs in for a Chi Town trip. Adding these 664 rooms brings the current total to more than 25,000 under White Lodging management, Hayes told the summer crowd gathered on the sidewalk outside Aloft for the ribbon cutting.
The build was designed by HOK Architects, known for the sleek University of Illinois at Chicago's James J. Stukel Towers and Forum. Simeone Deary Design Group, experts in design psychology and space narratives (“Does a software designer camp out here or an urban sophisticate?”) made the interiors swing. And like any good launch, the food played a star role. In this case, the caterer was also the new nosh pit in town (right next door, actually): Beatrix, a boutique restaurant and coffee shop at 519 N. Clark Street is adjacent to the Aloft compound and the newest debut from Richard Melman's Lettuce Entertain You, a brand with more than 80 restaurants nationwide.
Is it any wonder River North has become a magnet for money and development after long fallow years? “Everyone wants to be here,” says Alderman Reilly. “This is a success story. We’re really proud of what’s going on right now.”