With a flash of silver shovels and a dash of tango music, developers officially broke ground Thursday on uptown Charlotte's newest luxury hotel, the Grand Bohemian.
Located at Trade and Church streets, the $110 million hotel will total 254 rooms, including 32 luxury suites. It's being developed by the Kessler Collection, a boutique operator with nine hotels in cities such as Asheville, Charleston and Savannah, Ga., that are affiliated with Marriott's upscale Autograph Collection.
The Kessler Collection purchased the half-acre site next to the Carillon Building in 2015 for just over $3 million. The 15-story Grand Bohemian, expected to open in the first quarter of 2020, will include a spa, art gallery, an "Argentine" theme (hence the tango band at the groundbreaking), wine-blending classes for guests, indoor and outdoor event space, a restaurant and a rooftop lounge.
"We want to add some more spice to your city," said Richard Kessler, the company's CEO, who got his start with the Days Inn hotel chain in the 1970s. He said the company was attracted to Charlotte both for its strong business market and rapid growth. "This is still a young city, a beautiful city, progressive city — but still a young city."
"There are some pretty nice hotels here, and you can make your own decision, but at the end of the day I think this will be the best-designed hotel," Kessler said. "The architecture alone took a year and a half."
The Grand Bohemian is the latest entry in an increasingly crowded upscale hotel market in Charlotte's center city. A few blocks away, the 270-room Intercontinental tower is planned to open in 2019, part of the Carolina Theatre renovation on North Tryon Street. Next to Romare Bearden Park, the 217-room Kimpton Tryon Park opened last year, and a 300-room AC Hotel/Residence Inn by Marriott has sprung up atop the EpiCentre entertainment complex.
At least three new hotels are underway on Stonewall Street: A 350-room property at the Ally Center office tower whose operator hasn't been named, along with two 181-room hotels adjacent to the Novel Stonewall Station apartments and Whole Foods, a Home2 Suites and an EVEN.
And the Charlotte Regional Visitors Association is promoting a possible plan to build a 1,000-room convention center hotel, in part with public money. That would dramatically increase the supply of rooms in Charlotte and seek to match rival cities such as Nashville and Austin, Texas, which have developed their own convention hotels in recent years.
"These brands strengthen our city's brand," said Tracy Dodson, the city of Charlotte's economic director.
Uptown and its surrounding neighborhoods have already seen a massive hotel growth spurt, zooming from 1,676 rooms in 1985 to just under 5,300 now. About 2,000 more rooms are planned or under construction, for an almost 40 percent expansion still to come.
The Grand Bohemian project has raised funding from a diverse array of sources, including a couple of family offices, which are private wealth management firms for the ultra-wealthy. General contractor JE Dunn is also an equity partner, and the CMB Regional Centers, which collects funds from overseas investors seeking US residency in exchange for money through the EB-5 program, will be providing a mezzanine loan, officials said. The EB-5 program provides capital for U.S. projects, but opponents say it amounts to selling U.S. citizenship, allowing the well-to-do to jump to the head of the line in exchange for a fee.
Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, said the added hotel rooms will help improve the city's business travel market.
"This is the infrastructure of hospitality, and much needed inventory," Smith said. With the next phase of the Gold Line streetcar extension set to open in 2020 as well, Smith had a prediction for Trade Street: "You're not going to recognize this place."