21c Museum Hotels is moving forward with new projects as it seeks to expand its contemporary art-themed footprint across the country.
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky—21c Museum Hotels has stayed true to the concept it was founded on 12 years ago, with the opening of its first museum hotel, President and CEO Craig Greenberg said.
“I think what we do is still unique and still intriguing for guests from around the world,” he said. “It’s what we’ll continue to do. We’re not chasing a new demographic or concept based on what others are doing. We’re still committed to that today.”
The hotel concept is a bit nontraditional, he said. The company’s founders, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, are avid contemporary art collectors who wanted to revitalize their hometown of Louisville and, in the process, created a great boutique hotel and F&B experience. In February, Wilson retired as chairman of the 21c Museum Hotels board of directors.
The art displayed at 21c’s hotels rotates among the properties, and is curated to be thought-provoking, Greenberg said. The founders and curator decide which art to display based on issues of the day and those that are important to the individual communities, he said. The art is not just there for decoration; the hotels are true museums.
“Our shows are intended to capture people’s attention and provoke people to think in a new way, to stimulate conversation,” he said.
Historically, museums can be intimidating, he said. The goal of 21c Museum Hotels is to remove barriers to make art a positive, interactive experience.
21c Museum Hotels has seven hotels (its latest opened in Nashville in 2017), with another set to open in Kansas City this summer, Greenberg said.
“We’re continuing to grow,” he said. “We have a hotel announced in the design district of Miami. We’re looking at several other cities for significant growth.”
The 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City is the former Savoy Hotel and Grill, a historic building where President Harry Truman used to hold court, Greenberg said. The grill still features the booth where Truman used to sit, he said.
In redeveloping the property, the goal was to preserve the history of the building while designing a contemporary and comfortable hotel with a contemporary art museum in the space, he said.
“It’s the juxtaposition and synergies of contemporary art in a historical setting,” he said.
There’s a large transformation going on in Miami that’s been led by retail, and incorporates F&B concepts, Greenberg said. He added he’s looking forward to bringing hospitality and some art museums to the area, and hopes the hotel, which is in the design phase, will become a culturally significant part of the neighborhood.
“We’re interested in our projects doing more than being a hotel for visitors, and being part of a community revitalization effort,” he said. “We’re adding culture and life to neighborhoods that are being redeveloped, and it fits in nicely with all our projects.”
The company is looking at options for development in cities across the U.S., Greenberg said, though he did not provide any details of projects in the works. He said the company is starting to be more proactive about pursuing opportunities.
“We’re looking at overall market trends and dynamics, where the city is going and where we think we can contribute to that,” he said. “What unique impact can we make? Can we add something to the cultural and hospitality offerings?”
There isn’t a specific checklist for each potential property, he said, but the company has property initiatives and has to be confident the hotel will be successful. The company has developed in cities as small as Bentonville, Arkansas, and as large as Nashville, he said.
“Our brand is not cookie-cutter at all,” he said. “Our properties are all different, all designed uniquely and with specific locations in mind. At the same time, we hope to have a commonality of art, design and feel through our contemporary art programming.”
2017 was a good year for 21c Museum Hotels, Greenberg said. “We were very pleased with performance in 2017,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a strong 2018.”
Each market has its own set of challenges, such as new supply, a changing competitive landscape and, in one market, a convention center that is closed as it undergoes a two-year renovation.
The Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville has been closed for renovation and is expected to reopen this summer. Louisville is historically a strong convention market, Greenberg said. While the convention center has been closed, 21c’s Louisville hotel has been actively trying to bring in new guests and groups to fill the void.
“We will come back stronger than ever,” he said.
On the other end, the Nashville property had a great opening, Greenberg said, and he’s happy with how it took off out of the gate. However, he expects the property to have some challenges this year as there are four new boutique hotels opening within a two-block radius.
“I think overall it will be great,” he said. “It will enhance the immediate vicinity as a center of hospitality and culture and nightlife. It’s just different now. It’s a unique challenge.”