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Mum’s The Word as Downtown Boutique Inn Nears May Debut

Mum’s The Word as Downtown Boutique Inn Nears May Debut

By DEBORAH BELGUM

Staff Reporter





At a time when most hoteliers are rolling out the red carpet to lure tourists as occupancy rates slump, Andre Balazs is taking the opposite approach.

The hotel honcho has been tight-lipped about his latest boutique venture, the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, which is scheduled to open at the end of May, nine months behind schedule.

“It will be different from West Hollywood,” is all he would say about the 207-room boutique hotel. Balazs and his Standard Holdings also own the Standard in West Hollywood.

Not even hoteliers surrounding the new Standard Hotel at 6th and Flower streets have a clue about what’s going on.

“Usually you make more of a bang when you are coming into a new market,” said John Stoddard, general manager of the 900-room Wilshire Grand Hotel, the second largest hotel in downtown L.A. “You usually meet the general managers of the hotels to get a feel of the market.”

Many in the industry believe these trendy places have become passe in the minds of travelers who are more focused on value and service rather than style. Nationally, revenue per available room at boutique hotels fell by 16 percent last year, compared with 7 percent for the industry as a whole, according to Smith Travel Research.

Two months before opening, the Standard Hotel doesn’t have a general manager or a director of sales. Two weeks ago, Rafik Ghazarian, who left the Millennium Biltmore Hotel more than a year ago to take the director of sales position, resigned, according to Michael Rawson, Standard Holding’s vice president of operations, who is doubling as general manager. Ghazarian was unavailable for comment.

“We have been working on our sales on many levels,” he said. “It is a combination of efforts from public relations to referrals to working with corporate clients.”

The downtown L.A. market is struggling, with occupancy rates for the year not expected to climb above 59 percent. Some in the industry question how well the boutique hotel concept will work, especially in the more conservative downtown market.

“If you are going to stay at the Mondrian, the Sunset Marquis or the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood, you are there because of the location and because it is hip. Downtown Los Angeles doesn’t match that description,” said David M. Brudney, a hotel consultant in Los Angeles.

But Rawson notes that the company’s less orthodox style has been successful. All the properties are doing well, he said, including the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, the Mercer Hotel in Manhattan, and the Sunset Beach on Shelter Island.

“We don’t do business the traditional way,” Rawson said. “We like to keep everything under wraps and then when we open we have a big surprise.”

Room rates will start at $95 a night and go up to $500 a night cheaper than the average $127 rate at traditional hotels downtown. The downtown Standard also is counting on attracting the young corporate executive who wants the hipness of Hollywood but needs to stay downtown.

The former Bank of California building at 555 S. Flower St. is being turned into a paragon of 1950s-style decor. The d & #233;cor has changed consistently, thanks to Balazs’ changing ideas that have delayed the hotel’s opening by at least nine months.

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