The 381-room JW Marriott heading to uptown will be White Lodging's first foray in the Charlotte market — and in all of the Carolinas, for that matter.
The company, which is headquartered in Merrillville, Indiana, is developing the 21-story luxury hotel at the intersection of Stonewall and College streets, where a law firm kept its office for decades before the property was acquired and later demolished to make way for the mixed-use development headed up by Crescent Communities, which is building Ally Charlotte Center, a 26-story office tower anchored by Ally Financial.
Both the hotel and office tower are purposefully being built in tandem, said Doug Nysse, vice president of development at White Lodging. In fact, the excavation and site work that Crescent began months ago is not only preparing the site for Ally Charlotte Center but also for the hotel. Both buildings are expected to open in early 2021 after going vertical next year.
"The fundamentals that we’re seeing in Charlotte between continued job growth, population growth, the airport, general access to the metro area are all critical to our decision to invest in any particular market," Nysse said. "We’ve been tracking that in Charlotte over the last several years and, of course, have done deep diligence in the past couple of years in preparation of this project."
White Lodging is prolific in the Northeast and Midwest, with a much smaller footprint in the Southeast (on its website, it lists two hotels in Tennessee, four in Florida and one in Virginia but none in the Carolinas or Georgia).
Nysse said because of the company's exposure to Charlotte with the JW Marriott project, it's possible more projects could be pursued in Charlotte looking ahead.
White Lodging declined to comment on the expected cost of the hotel.
JW Marriott Charlotte will be White Lodging's third JW Marriott in its portfolio but the one here will be markedly smaller than its other hotels in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis, each of which have more than 1,000 rooms — the Austin hotel is that city's largest, at 1,012 rooms, according to data from the Austin Business Journal, a sister publication of the Charlotte Business Journal. The JW Marriott Indianapolis has 1,005 rooms.
"The experiences that we can deliver to our guests (at the JW Marriott) Charlotte are really more on the boutique and lifestyle focus versus the convention center focus," Nysse said.
The city of Charlotte has for years discussed the prospect of building a convention center hotel — a project that typically includes public subsidy; here, the request is expected to be $100 million in taxpayer money — to help bolster Charlotte's convention business. The Marriott IndyPlace hotel complex in Indianapolis, of which the JW Marriott was the centerpiece, carried a price tag of $450 million when it opened in early 2011.
Nysee declined to speculate about whether White Lodging, which has built a number of convention center-size hotels, would one day be interested in building a convention center hotel in the Queen City.
"We're focusing first on (the JW Marriott), but we’re certainly aware of the conversation and we’re tracking it very closely," he said.
Nysse spoke about White Lodging's upcoming investment here and, briefly, what can be expected in the JW Marriott Charlotte. Excepts have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What compelled White Lodging to build a luxury hotel in uptown Charlotte for its first project here?
We think this is the A-plus site for the next fine hotel in the city, between the development Crescent's doing on the site and down the street at Stonewall Station, with the residential and the Whole Foods, and other cranes you see with office development. Very conveniently, we’re diagonal from the convention center, so between an increase in the corporate office space, the amenities of the residents along the street and in the area, and the convention center, this is the center of all activity.
Demand for guestrooms themselves is critical for any hotel development, but in order for this to be our first major investment in Charlotte, it's also absolutely critical that this project ends up being focused on the social scene. In this realm, we have bars and restaurants ... although they’re going to be in the footprint of the hotel, they will be hopefully be outward-focused food and beverage outlets (and) really active.
There are many things playing in our favor — increased residential growth in the area and also, in this particular case, the plaza being built as part of this mixed-use development provides the hotel with exposure to the plaza and other food and beverage outlets that are being developed by Asana on the site.
Does White Lodging exclusively build urban hotels or do you have suburban properties as part of the portfolio mix?
The focus is on urban-center hotels but in other markets, like in Louisville (Kentucky), in the downtown market, we have midrise and high rise (hotels) like Aloft, Homewood Suites, a Moxy Hotel with (a Marriott) Autograph Collection hotel, but in addition, we build select-service hotels in targeted suburban locations — in the Chicago metro area, in Louisville, we're looking in Denver. We can leverage our operational infrastructure — not just urban projects and not just suburban projects but a whole array of them.
Why JW Marriott for the Ally Charlotte Center site?
We have strong brand ties with the Marriott family of brands, specifically JW Marriott. They are fine hotels (and) well-regarded by our guests and our associates, the two most important stakeholders we have in the properties. The opportunity that we see in Charlotte is for a branded hotel that’s very top-end within the marketplace, and that’s also tied to location. There are other fine hotels in Charlotte but this one ... absolutely was the right brand for this location.
What can we expect from the JW Marriott here?
(A boutique and lifestyle focus) will be demonstrated in terms of the intimacy of the spaces, the differentiation of not just the terrific guestrooms that we'll have, but also the community and meeting spaces that we'll have. Pretty much all of our breakout spaces and any of our meeting rooms will have natural light. We’re able to have terrific meeting experiences in the Charlotte location (because) we don’t have to build tremendously huge ballrooms the way that we do in our convention center hotels. We’ll be putting guestrooms on all four sides, which will give our guests a 360-degree view of the city.
Was having an office tower with a signed anchor tenant necessary for White Lodging's involvement?
It was absolutely critical. When Ally signed on to the development for 400,000 square feet ... it was a great demonstration of the success of the market, and it's helpful from a demand standpoint for the hotel to be tied so closely with that development.
What retail outlets will White Lodging develop at the JW Marriott Charlotte?
We have a full division of concepts and offerings to make sure they meet the market. Certainly, we’ve gone through diligence in the market to see where guests are and see where we can position our offerings to make sure it’s truly a destination and guest-focused.