GFI Hospitality President Joel Rosen said his company has been focused on building neighborhoods, not just hotels, and that ethos has helped the company craft some unique destinations like New York’s NoMad neighborhood.
NEW YORK—GFI Hospitality President Joel Rosen doesn’t want hotels that are commodities or boxes. He wants to build destinations with hotels that are “integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood.”
That’s why GFI, which now has seven properties with its portfolio largely centered in New York, has invested so much into revitalizing the up-and-coming NoMad, or Madison Square North, neighborhood. GFI’s three properties in that neighborhood now includes The Ace Hotel New York, The James New York, Nomad, and the appropriately named NoMad Hotel.
“When we did the Ace in 2007 and 2008, our vision was to create a destination, and we transformed that neighborhood,” Rosen said while speaking with Hotel News Now at the 2019 NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. “That was followed by The NoMad Hotel. And now there’s a lot of broad interest (in the neighborhood). They’ve got a Ritz-Carlton coming in and a Virgin hotel. It’s the new hotel node in the middle of Manhattan.”
He said when doing this kind of work, it’s important to focus on “the vibrancy of the neighborhood,” adding new retail space with separate store fronts and highlighting and amplifying the history and culture of a neighborhood.
“You have to find something special and make it more special,” he said. “The buildings speak to you in a certain way to tell you what they want to be, what they should be and how that fits into the fabric. There’s a rich legacy and story there.”
Rosen said the company has replicated that work with The Beekman, a property in downtown Manhattan that Rosen believes will be similarly transformational for the surrounding area and includes attached theater space, three separate bars and iconic architecture from when it was originally created as the Temple Court Building in the 1880s.
“The beauty there is in the legacy,” he said.
He said he takes the responsibility of handling a historic property like The Beekman seriously, noting it’s almost impossible “to describe how beautiful that building is.”
There’s a delicate balance in this sort of work, and it’s important to make sure these hotel properties are highlighting the existing culture of a neighborhood and not wiping it out, as any large-scale real estate developer has to cope with nearby residents’ fears of gentrification, Rosen said. This is especially true for the adaptive reuse projects GFI has specialized in.
“You want to preserve (what’s great about these buildings) and breathe new life into it,” he said. “Gentrification is a dangerous term, because it’s often misused. We’re not moving people out of their homes. But what we want to do is look at the rest of the neighborhood and see how we can bring it to life. We want to be sort of the meeting place for the community.”
He said the lobby spaces in many of GFI’s properties exemplify that, with the Scarpetta Italian Restaurant at The James and The Bar Room at Temple Court at The Beekman designed as a place locals can congregate.
“It’s called place making, and in city planning it’s about creating a sense of space,” Rosen said. “You want to create a destination and an experience, and it has to be authentic. We’re not looking to impose a commoditized lifestyle experience. We want to be the real deal.”
GFI isn’t limited to just New York, Rosen said, with an Ace property that was converted from a Howard Johnsons in Palm Springs, California, and the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans.