Philadelphia’s Center City—the local name for the downtown business district—has seen a resurgence of branded hotels over the past year. Last autumn, Marriott International opened the Aloft Philadelphia Downtown in a repurposed bank. In May, Modus Hotels and Parkway Corporation began development on the Pod Philly, and the Buccini/Pollin Group opened the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel in June.
Just days before the Renaissance opened its doors, Choice Hotels International celebrated the grand opening of the Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown – Center City. The property is part of a long-term relationship between Choice CDO David Pepper and developer Jim Pearlstein, president of Pearl Properties, a local development company. “Both are Philadelphia natives and went to high school together,” Janis Cannon, SVP of upscale brands at Choice Hotels International, said of the two men.
The City of Brotherly Love
Choice’s interest went beyond Pepper’s childhood. “Tourism in Philadelphia is growing,” said Pearlstein. “Last year, a record 43 million people visited the region and Center City experienced a 77-percent increase in roomnight sales, 36 percent higher than the national figure.”
Beyond those numbers, Jerry Rice, the Cambria’s GM, said that in 2017, hotel occupancy for the whole city was at 91 percent on Saturday nights—a strong sign of Philadelphia’s leisure demand. “There’s a lot of investment where we are,” he said, noting that beyond the hotel projects, a major condo development is underway. “There is a renaissance going on right now in Philadelphia. It’s great for our neighborhood and it’s great for business. Philadelphia is finally getting its due for what it has to offer a traveler.”
By Philly, For Philly
While Philadelphia has plenty of “legacy” hotel brands, Rice said, Choice did not have a strong presence in the city. “What better place to put a hotel with the tagline ‘Where Everybody is Somebody’ than the middle of an arts district in downtown Philadelphia?” he asked rhetorically.
For the Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown – Center City, the Choice team researched and explored the city to select the materials, design styles, artisans and vendors that would best evoke the city inside the hotel. “For example, the hotel features locally inspired design elements and art, as well as a selection of craft beer offerings from local breweries like Victory Brewing Company and Dock Street Brewing Company,” Cannon said.
The hotel is owned and built by Philadelphians for Philadelphians, said Rice, who has overseen several openings, three of which as a GM. “This is the most homegrown project I’ve ever done,” he said. “The architects are local. The construction crew is local. Everything that you could source from the Philadelphia region, they sourced from people who live and work around us and tried to keep the hotel really true to what it is.”
This, he added, plays into Cambria’s strengths because the brand eschews “cookie-cutter” hotel design. “Every hotel should have its own theme, vibe and personality to take on the neighborhood or environment,” he said.
The hotel is located on what is locally known as the Avenue of the Arts, and was the former Jazz Alley, which inspired DAS Architects to include a musical theme in the property’s decor. “When you walk up the grand staircase of the first-floor lobby, you will see music notes in the railings, outside of the meeting rooms are fixtures made of drumsticks and the tables by the hotel bar are made from drums,” Cannon noted. “These kind of small musical influences reflect the area’s artistic roots.” Other elements include art commissioned by Philadelphia-based artist and illustrator Hawk Krall.
In the not-too-distant future, the Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown – Center City will open a 3,000-square-foot rooftop restaurant and bar. “It will be the first rooftop space of its kind on Broad Street and give visitors and locals a new way to experience the historic landmarks and character of the city,” Cannon said.
Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown – Center City
LOCATION: Center City Philadelphia, close to the Kimmel Center, City Hall, Rittenhouse Square, Reading Terminal Market, One Liberty Observation Deck and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
OPENING: June 2018
NUMBER OF ROOMS: 223
GENERAL MANAGER: Jerry E. Rice Jr.
OWNER: Pearl Properties
MANAGEMENT COMPANY: Concord Hospitality Enterprises
OPENING OBSTACLE: The biggest challenge the team faced was getting a custom, hand-fabricated wallpaper for the lobby over from Spain. “The design of the wallpaper was like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Rice. “It was like cracked glass, only in gold, and it was stunning.” The timing did not work, however, and it became impossible to get the wallpaper made, shipped and through customs in time for the opening. And while Rice said that he is happy with the replacement paper the team found, the willingness to source customized wallpaper from overseas speaks to Cambria’s unique style.