In with the New, and with the Old

Sunstone's elaborate revision of the historic Boston Park Plaza Hotel moves the property forward without hiding its past

In the early 1900s, E. M. Statler began what would become one of the United States’ first major hotel networks. Through his namesake brand of accommodations, Statler introduced the en suite bathroom to the hotel industry, as well as the now-ubiquitous “do not disturb” sign.

Among the Statler properties still standing today is the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Built in 1927, with a name change in 1976 when it was sold to the Irving M. Saunders family, it is a member of the Historic Hotels of America program and a Boston landmark.

Sunstone didn’t want to make significant changes to Boston Park Plaza Hotel’s second-floor ballrooms, but it did update the prefunction hallway leading to them.
Sunstone didn’t want to make significant changes to Boston Park Plaza Hotel’s second-floor ballrooms, but it did update the prefunction hallway leading to them.

Preserving its legacy has been an important part of the hotel’s renovation, which Sunstone Hotel Investors is currently undertaking. The lodging REIT, with interests in 30 properties, mainly in the upper-upscale segment, completed its acquisition of the 1,054-guest-room hotel in July 2013, and when it finishes its updates, the building will embrace both the past and the present.

“We want to modernize, but not lose the tradition the hotel has,” says Guy Lindsey, Sunstone’s senior vice president of design and construction, emphasizing his company’s aim to accommodate millennials—“the next generation coming through,” he says—while also keeping in mind the needs of baby boomers. “I think our design completely meets that.”

In place of the hotel’s original restaurant and bar, Sunstone built out a lobby-level library space for guests to relax and socialize in.
In place of the hotel’s original restaurant and bar, Sunstone built out a lobby-level library space for guests to relax and socialize in.

His company began its work from the outside in; the first phase of its renovation focused on the hotel’s exterior. Over the years, little capital had been spent on outdoor updates, so Sunstone had to address a leaking roof and façade and replace surrounding sidewalks and a deteriorated third-level cornice that wraps around the building.

In the second phase, Sunstone built out a space designated for retail, which is currently occupied by luxury brand Hermes. It also leased the hotel’s basement—an area formerly used for laundry—to the New York-based David Barton Gym brand, and it allowed Strip by Stega, a local steak house chain, to take up the hotel’s corner space at street level.

Renovations to the hotel’s public areas began on the second and fourth levels, containing, respectively, the building’s primary meeting space and a series of breakout guest rooms. Both floors underwent complete cosmetic renovations that included new flooring, wall coverings, and LED lighting, and they received modified layouts that increased space and added new public restrooms. Sunstone also replaced the air-conditioning units throughout the hotel with quieter, more-efficient units. “A lot of what we are doing is driving energy efficiency,” Lindsey says.

Even as it has renovated, though, Sunstone has worked to respect the hotel’s past, most specifically when retouching the opulent second-floor ballrooms. “The [Imperial Ballroom, the largest,] will take you back in time,” Lindsey says. “You can see the stars back in the ’30s, sitting in there, watching their black-and-white movies. It’s a pretty incredible space. We didn’t want to lose that in our design; we wanted to enhance it.” The firm refurbished the room’s original chandeliers, and in one junior ballroom, it restored (and refinished, as needed) striking millwork-finish walls.

New furniture, new artwork, a modern chandelier, and other elements will replace the Boston Park Plaza lobby’s more-outdated finishes.
New furniture, new artwork, a modern chandelier, and other elements will replace the Boston Park Plaza lobby’s more-outdated finishes.

The hotel’s entry has a new revolving door, a new canopy, and new finishes, and to help with the flow of lobby traffic, Sunstone slid the check-in desk back into an office space, creating extra room. The company also relocated the first-floor bar, putting it front and center with a striking back wall that visitors will encounter immediately upon entry, and it’s complemented by artwork reflecting Boston’s present and past. “We wanted to create an environment where our guests want to come and hang out,” Lindsey says.

The last phase of the renovation, a complete redesign of the guest rooms, is set to start in late 2015. It will include the complete replacement of the furniture—“our goal was comfort and durability,” Lindsey says—and the deployment of a silver-gray color palette.

Like Sunstone’s other hotel projects, the Boston Park Plaza renovation speaks to the company’s business model and strategy. “[We approach] hotels that need capital invested,” Lindsey says. “We want to invest the capital and reposition the hotel.”

Sunstone’s goal for Boston Park Plaza was to turn the long-standing property into a four-plus-star hotel. “[As with all our properties,] that includes completely redesigning the guest experience,” Lindsey says. “From a technological standpoint, a physical standpoint, and a service one.”

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Hyatt Regency San Francisco Embarcadero Center

Sunstone’s $262.5 million December 2013 acquisition and subsequent renovation of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco at the Embarcadero Center marked the company’s entry into the Bay Area market. In its review of the region, Sunstone determined that though the city was undergoing a robust round of commercial construction, it was seeing little (and would likely continue seeing little) in the way of new hotel rooms. This, along with its prospective property’s exceptional location in San Francisco’s central business district and a strong working relationship with Hyatt, led to Sunstone’s decision to make the deal.

To tailor the 802-room hospitality space to its standards, Sunstone added new desks, installed upgraded technology—including new televisions and improved wireless capabilities—and replaced plumbing fixtures and accessories in guest bathrooms. (For example, it replaced each bathroom’s towel rack with a space-saving cubby inside the vanity.) These supplements came in addition to the already-incorporated finishes prepurchased by the building’s previous owners, which included new carpeting, new lighting, lounge-chair ottomans, and desk chairs. And, on the headboard behind each bed, Sunstone added a subtle silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge—a unique accent meant to remind guests where they are.