It’s interesting in the current economy that a trend toward small, upscale boutique hotels seems to be gaining traction.
The trend is fueled by upscale travelers who disdain the cookie cutter franchised hotels. Boutique hotels tend to have a “wow” factor upon entering the lobby and a better room experience.
In Mobile, the recently openedInn is an example. The Inn is the restored Hall-Ford House, which actually is Mobile’s second oldest standing home. The home was built in 1836 by a Mr. Hall from Philadelphia who moved to Mobile to enter the cotton trade. Later the property was owned by the Ford family, hence the name Hall-Ford House. Current Fairhope City Councilman Mike Ford is a descendant.
The home has been splendidly restored and opened last month for business as Mobile’s latest hospitality gem.
The owner is Larry Posner of Woodstock, New York. Posner has invested heavily in Mobile since the 1990s, now owning four apartment complexes in the area. Posner told Lagniappe that he “worked out an arrangement with the City of Mobile back when Mike Dow was Mayor to restore the dilapidated Fort Conde Village. The area was calling out to me.”
Posner entered into a long term ground lease from the City of Mobile and went to work restoring the 13 buildings in the village. The latest structure to be rehabilitated, to the tune of $2.7 million, is the Fort Conde Inn. The property is now a 10 guest room boutique hotel with average rates of $200 per night. The rate includes a sumptuous breakfast prepared by a gourmet chef.
Also within the property are four parlors, two patios and a commercial kitchen for catering wedding receptions and other events.
As contrasted to Posner who stepped up to the plate in a big way in Mobile by putting his money where his mouth was with the Fort Conde Inn, the boutique hotel situation in Fairhope is different.
In Fairhope, plans were announced for the first Pulitzer Hotel in the U.S. The 40-room luxury hotel was to be built by Mac Pulitzer, the great-grandson of the founder of the Pulitzer Prize. However, plans are now on hold.
Pulitzer’s partner in the development is Mike Bernhardt of Fairhope. Bernhardt in a uncle of Mac Pulitzer’s wife, Kourtney. The Mac Pulitzers have been visiting Fairhope for years.
As originally proposed for Fairhope, the luxury hotel was to be located downtown on Section Street and was to house the nation’s first and only Pulitzer Library on the first floor.
In announcing plans for the hotel earlier this year, both Pulitzer and Bernhardt emphasized their love for Fairhope and said how much they wanted to do something in and for Fairhope. They also stated that financing had been obtained for the project.
All those statements appear to have been – how shall I say this – “inaccurate.”
As this is being written, Pulitzer announced that, due to difficulty in obtaining financing, he needed an equity partner in his $11 million venture, and added that he’d be willing to consider relocating the project to another city should local incentives elsewhere make such a move reasonable.
“When I began my journey to open the nation’s first Pulitzer Library and Hotel in Fairhope, Ala.,” Pulitzer said, “I had a feeling banking the venture would not be easy; however, I never expected 99 percent of banks would slam the door on an asset that shows exceptional appraised values and has national historic significance. I am determined, and I am not giving up.
“Unfortunately, I had money in one of the Bernie Madoff-type Ponzi schemes, and it ate the majority of my liquid assets. This makes me search out an equity investor with $1.5 million, or about 12.5 percent of this $11 million venture.
“This is an asset that should be built. ‘Pulitzer’ the name, is recognizable world-wide and it works very well with luxury hotel properties. I’d like to build the Pulitzer Library and hotel in Fairhope; however, if I locate an investor that wants this asset built in a larger market, well, my bags will be packed and ready to go,” Pulitzer concluded. “My goal, in the end, is to build this asset for the entire country.”
So much for any loyalty to Fairhope.