Two of Chattanooga's biggest hotel developers are bringing new boutique brands to the city's downtown lodging market this year, while other hoteliers are revamping some of Chattanooga's historic buildings into boutique locations.
"Consumers are looking for unique experiences," says Hiren Desai, chief executive of the 3H Group, which is developing the Moxy Hotel along King Street at Market Street. "Boutique hotels like what we're seeing downtown are becoming more popular for travelers wanting something different."
The Moxy and other boutique hotels taking shape in Chattanooga are tapping into the desire of many travelers wanting to stay in a more intimate hotel, industry experts say. Boutique hotels typically distinguish themselves from chain hotels by giving guests more personalized service and offering a different type of atmosphere. For example, a planned boutique hotel in The Clemons building at West Eighth and Chestnut streets plans to build on the synergies around the new Westin Hotel, according to its developer. TMC Group is looking at putting 80 to 100 rooms in the building that is now apartments.
Desai, who has been building major franchised hotels in Chattanooga for the past 25 years, said the Moxy will be different from his other properties.
The European-style Moxy brand is opening a number of locations in the United States, but Chattanooga is the smallest market so far. The front desk for the 108-room Moxy is also a bar, and the hotel will include an outdoor patio and entertainment offerings.
"The Southside is becoming kind of Chattanooga's entertainment district, so we think the Moxy brand should fit well into that scene with a music element at the bar and a different look than other conventional hotels," Desai says.
The Moxy, which Marriott launched in 2014 in Milan, Italy, is geared toward the millennial generation, Desai said. The emphasis is on a large, fun, communal first-floor space and smaller rooms upstairs with in-room storage for such items as bicycles.
"It's kind of edgy," Desai says of the new, $19 million, four-story hotel taking shape on a triangular lot just a block from the Chattanooga Choo Choo. "The check-in is actually a bar. Before you get your key, you get a drink."
The Moxy is only a couple of blocks away from another boutique hotel, The Dwell, which is a revamped version of the 113-year-old hotel previously known as the Stone Fort Inn on 10th Street near Chattanooga's City Hall.
Seija Ojanpera, who bought the hotel in 2014, remodeled and renamed the 16-room hotel and its Terra Mae restaurant to The Dwell Hotel and the Solarium and Matilda Midnight cocktail bars.
Her boutique hotel has furnishings from the 1950s, '60s and '70s, including Naugahyde couches, a tiki bar and even a coin-operated Japanese massage chair. Each room has its own name and theme. The Bee and Argyle rooms have wallpaper to match, for example, while the Palm Springs Room has photos of the Southern California desert resort town.
"I wanted it to be a lot of fun," Ojanpera says. "Almost an art piece; a little gallery in each room."
The new 35-seat, garden-themed Solarium restaurant which opened this year features a colorful decor, botanical touches and floor-to-ceiling windows along with limited outdoor seating to reflect feel of a retro sun room. The Solarium creates a contrast to the 25-seat Matilda Midnight, The Dwell's "starlit" cocktail bar.
"I have a passion for travel, and I make a point to seek out small, designer hotels because they all have something unique to offer — whether it's a cool setting, or a new spin on a favorite cocktail, or a dish I've never tried," Ojanpera says.
On the other side of downtown, Chattanooga's biggest hotel development firm, Vision Hospitality, is building its first boutique hotel in its hometown.
Company CEO Mitch Patel, whose company already operates or is developing 13 other hotel and apartment properties in Chattanooga, said the Edwin will be the most expensive hotel he has ever built — on a per-room basis — when it opens later this year. The $27 million hotel has only 90 rooms, but it will also have a rooftop pool and bar, a spa, 65 new art pieces by local artists along with valet-only parking with 118 spaces on site.
Patel said The Edwin will be "a destination hotel" located on the south side of the historic Walnut Street Bridge and the Tennessee River, overlooking the Hunter Museum of American Art. "We wanted something unique and different," Patel says. "We didn't want to put something that we've already had."
The Edwin will be affiliated with the Marriott Autograph Collection brand.
"A product like this commands a higher rate," Patel says of the $200-plus per night expected hotel rate. "It's positioned in the upscale luxury segment."
Chattanooga's longest continually operating hotel, the historic Read House, is also getting a new look this year with a $25 million upgrade slated to be finished in November.
Jon Weitz, president and CEO of Avocet Hospitality Group, a Charleston, South Carolina-based company that owns two other boutique hotels, doesn't shy away from the notion that a ghost haunts room 311 of the Read House.
"Our intent is to pay homage to the haunted room of 311," says Weitz, "Everybody talks about it. And if you Google the Read House, everything that comes up is 'haunted room 311.'"
So Weitz, who plans to gut the upper floors of the 10-story hotel and rebuild all the rooms from scratch, will look at old floor plans and restore room 311 to what it would have looked like in 1926, complete with period furnishings.
"We're going to take it back — just that one room," he said of the infamous room 311. Now it looks like any other room — except for sawed-off bars outside the window that date back, legend has it, to when federal agents kept gangster Al Capone there.
The 241 other rooms in the hotel, built in 1926 at the corner of Broad Street and Ninth Street (now M.L. King Boulevard), will be renovated with updated technology, new bathrooms and new furnishings.
As for the public spaces in the hotel, Weitz said, "Think 'Great Gatsby.'"
Avocet Hospitality Group is working with local residents, historians and architects to do its best to recreate a modern version of the hotel's original grandeur in the public spaces, ballroom and restaurant.
"Our main goal is to give people a unique experience," Weitz says.