Transforming History into Hospitality: Five Case Studies

By John Tess President & CEO, Heritage Consulting Group | April 15, 2018

Vintage buildings offer an incredible opportunity for hotel developers to create a unique and memorable guest experience.  When that development capitalizes on the 20% federal rehabilitation tax credit, that experience can also be particularly profitable.  Below are five recent case studies.

The Langham (Chicago, IL)

Frequently identified as one of the finest luxury hotels in the United States, the 5-star Langham occupies the lower 13 floors of the 52-story IBM Building in downtown Chicago.  When people think of using vintage buildings as a platform for creating memorable guest experience, skyscrapers from the 1970s do not readily come to mind.  At 695 feet, the Meis van der Rohe tower was built as the regional offices for worldwide corporate giant IBM.  The international style building is a quintessential glass and steel box.  At the time of completion, it was the third tallest building in Chicago.

The idea of adapting a portion of the tower for hotel use germinated in the mid-2000s.  Office tenants were consolidated to the upper floors and project architects focused on carving segmenting the two uses by creating a shared glass partitioned first floor reception areas with exclusive elevators.  The $170 million renovation transformed the one-time office space into magnificent hotel accommodations.  Hotel reception is on the north; office access on the south.  The hotel lobby is located on the second floor along the restaurant and private meeting rooms.  The third floor has a ballroom and the first floor of a two-story spa, the 4th floor has the second floor of the two-story spa and guest rooms, and floors 5-13 are exclusively for guest rooms.  In total, there are 268 guest rooms and 48 suites.  The upper floors remain leased office space, including the headquarters of the American Medical Association.

From arrival on the north shore of the Chicago River, to the elegant lobby and restaurant, to the sweeping guest room views of Chicago's skyline from the floor to ceiling windows, the Langham provides a unique sense of Chicago architectural history.

The Crawford at Union Station (Denver)

Quite a different experience is the Crawford Hotel in Denver's Union Station.  As with many passenger rail stations, by the end of the 20th century, Denver's Union Station was a grand, if aging landmark in the LoDo neighborhood of Downtown.  The station was built in stages beginning between 1881 and 1894 and in the first half of the 20th century over 80 trains served the station on a daily basis.  However, as rail transportation faded across the country, so too did activity at Union Station. By the end of the century, only two trains served the Station.

The Langham occupies the lower 13 floors of the 52-story IBM Building in downtown Chicago
The Crawford Hotel in Denver's Union Station was originally a train station from the late 1800's
The Crawford Hotel's Great Hall
Kimpton's Monaco Hotel in Washington D.C. originally served as a Post Office in 1884
The Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco was originally a canning factory from the early 1900's
Entrance to the the Argonaut Hotel, San Francisco
The Adelphi Hotel in Saratoga Springs, NY first opened in 1877
A guest room in the Adelphi Hotel in Saratoga Springs, NY
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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.