The Reno Boutique Hotel Concept

I was actually planning this article for quite a while, and Fernando beat me to it. Anyway, I felt actually the concept could successfully be applied to some of the smaller motels downtown that currently serve as weekly motels.

To understand what concept I am referring to, it's probably beneficial you know what a boutique hotel is exactly. Boutique hotel is a term usually applied to smaller, more luxurious hotels and motels that offer services on a more personal level, lobbies (if it even has a lobby) and any accompanying restaurants or recreational rooms are on a much smaller scale. For instance, you typically won't find a giant spacious 5-story atrium lobby in a boutique hotel; you would find a small, maybe 800 sq. ft. lobby with an ornate front desk, and a few stylish couches or chairs to lounge around on. And that is the underlying concept of a boutique hotel, the smallness of it all connects you more to the personalized service you get. Now, some major chains have taken that concept and run with it. However even though there might be 300 rooms instead of 100, they still follow the same concept of closer, more intimate architecture and scaling of interior rooms.

In Los Angeles, an old, run down motel called the Beverly Plaza (not to be confused with Beverly Hilton) was converted into a boutique motel in the heart of Los Angeles. Renamed the Orlando, it went through an extensive renovation, replacing all the furniture in the rooms with art deco furniture (see pictures below).

Lobby LobbyOrlando Motel

So my initial thought was, a couple of the more questionable motels downtown could easy, and somewhat affordably, be converted to boutique hotels. Take the Lakemill Lodge, for example. It's a prime candidate. It's right across the street from the Automobile Museum, kiddy corner to the Siena, one block from the river. It has the right number of rooms to be a boutique hotel, and its open roof-less center court could be converted into a garden area, outdoor cafe, zen garden, etc.

Of course, talking the owners of these motels into doing that is an entirely different challenge. Most weekly motels downtown are fully inhabited, and if there are 100 rooms at a weekly motel, and charge $120 a week for the rooms, the income is more than $500,000 a year. A nice cash cow. If it was a boutique motel, it certainly wouldn't be at full capacity year round. So how does the Orlando survive in L.A. among big giants like the Hilton and Bonaventure? I'm not sure, but it does. Perhaps it's the personalized service you get. Or the above-standard decorations and interior finishes. Or just the human element of boutique hotels in general.

Anybody have any favorite boutique hotels/motels you frequent in other cities? What are you thoughts on a small weekly motel downtown becoming a boutique hotel, and how could the City of Reno encourage it?


Post your comments
Posted by: Kevin - 4/7/2007 11:15:02 AM the Union Square hotel in San Francisco is the hippest boutique hotel I have been to. It's right on the cable car line.

Posted by: Paul - 4/7/2007 11:28:30 AM
Check out the Jupiter Hotel in Portland. It is quite the quirky boutique hotel. Downtown could use one of these.

Posted by: myrnatheminx - 4/9/2007 8:48:51 PM
I used to love the York in Union Square because you could get a room for under $100. Since I stayed there last, the price has doubled. I've stayed at the Union Square as well and its okay--definitely reasonable. The best places to stay in San Francisco are the Hotel Del Sol (free parking!) and The Marina Inn.

Posted by: Nate - 2/7/2008 10:47:36 PM
Hotel Lucia in Portland was a lot of fun and very chic. Tough to do a Hotel Jupiter type project in Reno. Cheap motels are our City's calling card, affordable housing, and a cashcow to property owners for investing little (a new motel would get the honor of bringing it all up to building and fire codes!). Our cheap motels inspire songs in all genres. You could dress them up to fit on the cover of Dwell, but they would fill up quick with hookers and blow. Our community is "funky" enough to pull something like this off but too small to make it commercially viable (no young proffesionals and a lot of hotel competition). But I would love to be proven wrong! Which one of you downtownmakeover hipsters is going to buy the first motel and put it on the cover of Dwell and Rolling Stone?!

Posted by: xoxoReno - 4/18/2008 5:16:14 PM
The person who convinces the owner of the Lakemill Lodge to convert to a boutique hotel should get the Congressional Medal of Honor

Posted by: Wanderer - 7/20/2008 10:57:12 PM
I'm sure the owners of the Lakemill Lodge would love to convert, but it's a matter of $$$. Especially if there's no cash flow.

Posted by: James - 7/21/2008 11:15:02 PM
I’m sure the Lakemill Lodge is mortgage free. That dump is a cash cow for the owners.

Posted by: Gene - 10/16/2008 7:38:49 AM
I have represented hotel operators for years, and I have some thoughts to share with you on the attempt to transfer the boutique hotel concept to your area. Small, boutique hotels will succeed only in areas where there are upscale business and leisure visitors to rent the rooms. Examples in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and the bay area are not very useful in Reno. Those communities will regularly have affluent overnight hotel guests in town for business meetings, or for charity socials and fine arts events, because those hotels are located near financial centers and affluent neighborhoods. Those those guests need to be close by for such events or for transactional meetings. Without that "draw" the fancy small hotels would have no guests. How many `big deal' all-hands meetings are taking place regularly in Reno? How many upscale charitable socials or fine arts events are taking place, drawing in significant numbers of patrons to Reno? Very few. Reno visitors are largely sales reps or tech reps on the business side, and modest short-term recreational visitors on the leisure side. Those are not upscale boutique hotel audiences. They will stay at Peppermill or Atlantis and they will be satisfied with those choices. Sorry, folks, this boutique hotel idea is not going to work in Reno. What might be a winning formula in west Los Angeles is not automatically transferable to Reno, Nevada.

Posted by: Bugsy - 10/16/2008 9:15:15 AM
I completely agree with you Gene, thats why I think the fitzgeralds should stay as a casino/hotel. Many people here are trying to make downtown reno into something it will never be. Downtown reno is about gaming and entertainment. If you want to throw in some artistic elements to it, thats ok, but don't think you can put in arts and take away gaming and make it work. No way!!

Posted by: Mike Van H - 10/16/2008 10:11:30 AM
Let me throw in my two cents here. First, I think Bugsy and Gene, you might be confusing the term boutique with the term luxury. I have spent more of my life living outside of Reno than in Reno, and I am a lover of quirky boutique hotels, so I too know a thing or two about this. Some of my favorite boutique hotels in Los Angeles are priced competitively with the likes of a Hilton, or Ramada hotel, or even the Bonaventure in L.A. You can get a room at the Franklin for $120 a night, you can get a room at the Orlando in Hollywood for $130 a night, you can get a room at the Standard for $150 a night, yet a crap room in a Best Western in WeHo is $90 a night. So most boutique hotels I stay in, in other cities, are comparable in price to decent regular hotels. Perhaps that's simply because I seek out the cheaper boutique hotels. Second point of mine would be this: I could be wrong, but I don't think L3 Development is interested in opening a boutique hotel where rooms start at $360 a night like the 'boutique' hotels in San Fran. I think they are smart enough to know a price point like that would never go down in this city. What I think they are interested in doing is capturing the boutique hotel style and service concept; the themed, stylish and/or aspirational decor injected into the interior design and hotel rooms, the personalized service, usually some kind of unique entertainment venue open to the public, honesty bars, etc. etc. We, as Reno, can do that without breaking people's pocketbooks. Second, the term 'Boutique Hotel' has become fairly generic lately and often misunderstood. Most true boutique hotels, the original ones, only have 3 to 100 rooms. That's it. These larger hotel chains like Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide's W Hotels, who have 500+ rooms yet call themselves boutique hotels, are not true boutique hotels, just as the new Fitzgeralds won't be a 'true' boutique hotel by architectural and historical definition. But that doesn't mean we can't take the elements that make a boutique hotel special, which are currently absent from Reno, and apply them to an existing mid-scale structure like the Fitz, without raiding people's pocketbooks in the process like the Palomar in S.F. The Siena in Reno hides some of the most beautifully decorated rooms in Reno, in a boutique style. Now a word about gaming: The notion that a non-gaming hotel downtown will fail simply because it does not have gaming is ludicrous. First, I had a poll recently that proved people living in Reno would rather put their relatives/friends up in a non-gaming hotel downtown than a gaming hotel, and they would rather go to a non-gaming hotel for entertainment than a gaming hotel. Second, if people staying at a non-gaming Fitz downtown want to go gamble, there are 5 casinos within a 2 block radius they can walk to. No one is saying turn ALL of the casinos downtown into non-gaming hotels. But there is room for one or two non gaming hotels downtown with their own niche and style.

Posted by: Bugsy - 10/16/2008 11:44:17 AM
Thanks for your imput mike, but I will have to disagree with you on this one. I do know what a boutique style hotel is because Ive been to the Montgomery hotel in downtown San Jose which is a historical hotel that was restored to a boutique hotel. I don't think the fitz should lose its casino due to its location to downtown. Its in the heart of the downtown gaming. I know the casino was losing money, but thats because it was/is a dump. A complete remodel will bring the better, higher class gamblers in. What would make a good boutique hotel, due to its location and size, is the old kings Inn. Its right next to L3 developement of both the montage and the train trench covering. And when the retail starts to open along the trench cover, it will be perfect for the hotel...not to mention also that we won't have to see that ugly building anymore. last coment is the survey you mentioned about where reno residence are more willingly to put up their families. I think that survey was a bit biased to to the fact that there families are likly in town to visit family and not for the entertainment and gambling which most of reno's tourist come here to do. P.S. mike, Im looking forward to more of your downtown walk pictures.

Posted by: urbanblog - 10/16/2008 7:53:32 PM
I've stayed in a lot of hotels of all stripes and I have to say that the one hotel type I find most missing from Reno is the classic nice hotel type. That's the one with the quiet yet bustling lobby with lots of marble, at least one well regarded local restaurant and lots of events booked in the ballrooms. The question I have about the Fitz deal is: is it going to be more like the Mondrian on the sunset strip, or is it going to be more like Houston's Lancaster? Both are not ordinary hotels at all, one is extremely hip and edgy and one is extremely staid and classicist. Both have elements that make them qualify for boutique status if your definition of boutique is that it's not serving the mass market. For example the Lancaster or something like Spokane's wonderful Davenport is certainly not the Sheraton... just like the Mondrian is certainly not a W. BTW I think the block anchored by Fitz needs to have some of its gaming reactivated - and a great way for Reno to recreate that old casino arcade feel where people could walk from casino to casino, would be to have Fitz serve as the hotel portion, it'd be great to see card games in small gambling rooms that empty out into the alley, again. So to me Fitz's casino is irrelevant if it serves a part of the market that's not currently being served and helps activate gaming in the general vicinity.

Posted by: Prince Abdul Aziz Hammad Al Saud - 2/16/2011 5:22:08 AM
You cannot call a hotel boutique if it is not, unfortunately either it is or it is not. In my opinion I will rate recently opened Hotel Rafayel in outskirts of London Battersea as one of the few best I have come across. It has a good sized lobby, an excellent Gym plus a great business set alongside a bar and a restaurant. All this ties in with the theme very well, a boutique has to feel different , this place does exactly that. I keep searching for great hotels and think some of the selections here are good .