NEW HAVEN — The economy was collapsing around him, but Paul T. McGowan barely took notice last week as he prepared for the opening of his company’s first wholly owned hotel: the Study at Yale.
Mr. McGowan, the principal at Hospitality 3, was excitedly unwrapping bronze-and-stone bar tops, taste-testing braised pork ribs and refining the jazzy play list for the hotel’s iPod-driven sound system. After two years of planning, he was filling in the final details that would complete the transformation of a 1961 building from tired midrange hotel to boutique lodging for the brainy.
From its eyeglasses logo to its “Food for Thought” room service menu, the Study at Yale aims to make guests feel connected to their Ivy League surroundings. Mr. McGowan, 47, has applied expertise that he gained developing W brand lifestyle hotels for Starwood to create a Hospitality 3 brand aimed at intellectual, sophisticated and well-traveled visitors to the Yale campus.
This week’s opening of the 124-room establishment comes at a particularly gloomy time for the hotel industry (or any industry, for that matter), but the privileged status of the Yale campus may offer a degree of stability.
“It’s a very difficult time to be launching any sort of lodging concept, but he’s somewhat insulated in the heart of one of the premier universities in our country,” said Scott D. Berman, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers who leads the hospitality and leisure advisory practice. “Regardless of the economy, school’s in session.”
The Study’s site on Chapel Street is ideal for the culturally minded — it is opposite the Yale School of Art and a block or two from the School of Architecture, the university art gallery and the Center for British Art.
There is a major luxury hotel downtown, the 306-room Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, but Mr. McGowan is aiming for an even higher level of personal service in a more stylistically sophisticated setting. “Think of it as New York meets New England,” he said.
Downtown New Haven has enjoyed renewed vibrancy in recent years, thanks to state- and city-backed revitalization efforts that have encouraged development of housing, retail establishments and restaurants. On the horizon are a new cancer center at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the relocation of Gateway Community College and the Long Wharf Theater to downtown.
The Study’s 124 rooms will bring the number of hotel rooms in the downtown area to about 820, according to Ginny Kozlowski, president and chief executive of the Greater New Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Many of those rooms have recently been upgraded or are about to be. For example, the Newport Hotel Group, based in Middletown, R.I., is adding 47 rooms to its 160-room Courtyard New Haven at Yale, formerly a Holiday Inn, on Whalley Avenue. The firm is also planning renovations at its recently acquired New Haven Hotel on George Street, according to Jon Cohen, Newport’s principal.
A Hartford firm, Centerplan Development, recently proposed a 240-room luxury hotel at the corner of College and George Streets at the edge of campus, but the credit squeeze has reportedly put that project on hold.
Downtown could use the additional accommodations, said Bruce Alexander, vice president for New Haven and state affairs at Yale. “There are many times of the year when there aren’t enough first-class hotel rooms in the city, and people end up staying out in the suburbs,” he said.
Yale has allowed three hotels — the Omni, the Courtyard and the Study — to add the university’s name to their own. There is no cost to the hotels; the university lends its name as a good will effort to support local enterprise. The decision-making process is markedly informal: typically, Mr. Alexander checks out the facility and decides whether to recommend granting it the right to use the university’s name. (“It’s a subjective determination — we’re not the AAA rating service,” he said.)
This is Hospitality 3’s first independent hotel project. The company, which has about a dozen employees and offices in New Haven and New York, is a partner in a new W hotel under construction in Hoboken, N.J., but has primarily focused on managing hotel projects for clients.
Mr. McGowan will not disclose his firm’s total investment in the Study, other than to confirm that it acquired the property, then operating as the Colony Inn, for about $7 million in 2006. The extensive renovation of the five-story building, which had 86 rooms, included the addition of two more stories and a penthouse function room with floor-to-ceiling views of downtown.
The architect, KPMB Architects of Toronto, combined modern lines with natural materials like wood, bronze and fabric to lend warmth and familiarity. The building’s open glass front is dappled with colored window panes that mimic those found in some of Yale’s Collegiate Gothic buildings. A granite staircase leads to the lobby, where a coffee lounge offers guests fat leather chairs with a street-side view.
The main floor includes three walnut-paneled meeting rooms, the largest of which accommodates 110 people, and a restaurant and bar with more leather chairs as well as banquette seating. The restaurant, a small-plate venue called Heirloom, is operated by Main Street Restaurant Partners, a New York City firm that owns several restaurants in Manhattan, including Django, Calle Ocho and Rain.
Each guest room has a leather armchair and ottoman, along with a work station that runs the length of the window. The beige linen coverlet on each bed is given added heft by a Vermont-made wool blanket. Blue-and-white seersucker guest robes s
port the hotel’s eyeglasses logo.
There are nine suites and most have a separate study with stocked bookshelves. One suite will instead have an artist’s studio outfitted with art supplies.
Room rates downtown range from roughly $169 to $269, Ms. Kozlowski said. Rates at the Study will be at the upper end of that range.
Even before the Study opens, Mr. McGowan is convinced that the concept “has legs” enough to be replicated in other college towns; the challenge, he acknowledged, will be finding similarly ideal locations. In the meantime, Yale parents are already greeting the brand with enthusiasm — the Study is sold out, with a wait list, for commencement weekend.