Kimpton Hotels: Past, Present and Future
By John Tess President & CEO, Heritage Consulting Group | August 25, 2019
It is hard to overestimate the role of Bill Kimpton, founder of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, in redefining today's hotel market.
In the years just before Kimpton, the hotel industry was booming. Motels followed construction of the Interstate Highway system across the country, capturing critical and opportune sites at beltway interchanges. This new standardized product targeted vacationers and business road-warriors alike to provide a product that was clean, affordable, and consistent. At the same time, inner cities were being rebuilt through urban renewal. Tired pre-war properties were slowly transitioning into affordable privately owned housing.
Often with city financial and zoning assistance, large modern high-rise hotels with 500 to 1,000 rooms were appearing in most metropolitan areas. These concrete and glass skyscrapers formed the backbone of the burgeoning convention and meeting industry often pre-dating and serving as a precursor to convention centers. Excepting a few exceptional ersatz historic properties such as the Williamsburg Inn or The Greenbriar, the lodging industry fully embraced the tech-efficient, future-facing values of the Space Age while also placing efficiency and consistency ahead of guest services.
Amidst this industry boom, Kimpton saw opportunity. A one-time investment banker who helped Colonel Sanders take his Kentucky Fried Chicken public, Kimpton's background included helping Harry Helmsley raise $23 million in the 1970s to integrate the Villard Houses in mid-town Manhattan into a 55-story Helmsley Palace luxury hotel. A New York real estate magnate, it was only beginning in the 1970s that Helmsley began investing in hotels. Hemsley considered the Helmsley Palace to be the crown jewel of his real estate portfolio – both the building and its service ethic.
As Kimpton became familiar with the hotel industry, he saw a niche translating the "European"-style guest-centric hotel to the United States. That niche would link smaller distinctive historic buildings with modern accommodations and concierge-quality guest services. Lobbies were to be social centers and include guest social events. Hotel restaurants were not to be "hotel food," but dining destinations for locals and guest alike. On the last point, Kimpton elevated food and beverage revenue to a point where the restaurant, often headed by a celebrity chef such as Wolfgang Puck, was as important an asset to the property's bottom line as the guest rooms.
Exterior view of Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia, looking northeast at the south and west elevations