Unless your design firm travels in very rarified circles, Gary Isenberg is a lot more likely to be your next client than Barry Sternlicht. And, that’s a good thing. The new ventures being formed by industry veterans such as Isenberg, president of LWHA Asset Management Services, offer hospitality design firms a direct line into a steady stream of work.
For example, LWHA and Meyer Jabara Hotels (MJH), a hotel ownership and management group, teamed up to operate a portfolio of five hotels in North and South Carolina. LWHA will serve as asset manager, while Meyer Jabara Hotels will oversee day-to-day operations. Meyer Jabara Hotels has equity in this portfolio, with the majority ownership stake being held by NCSC Hospitality Portfolio LLC, a conglomerate of private real estate investors.This will be the first time LWHA and Meyer Jabara will work collaboratively on hotel assets.
“The investors of NCSC Hospitality Portfolio LLC plan to acquire select service hotels in markets that are expanding through population and income growth,” said Isenberg during an interview with Boutique Design at this year’s NYU International Hospitality Investment Conference. So, while there’s probably not going to be that career-defining, blank slate boutique hotel on their radar, there is going to be approximately $5 million allocated for renovations on properties already in the portfolio as well as the prospects for additional acquisitions. Ultimately, Isenberg said his client NCSC hopes to grow the portfolio to more than a dozen properties in the next 12 to 24 months.
Not only do clients like this have work available to a range of firms, they also have the kind of real-world deals that make the numbers work. While some high-profile jobs are still seeking financing or ploughing through regulatory delays, commissions for select service, branded projects are getting financed and getting done. “There are lots of deals out there,” said Isenberg. “That’s especially true in some secondary urban markets and in emerging markets. We see substantial opportunities for select service in those areas, but also, to a certain degree, for the right lifestyle concept.”
If you want business from Isenberg, you have to know his goals, brand standards for the hotel and the market. “The designer has to understand the brand’s Property Improvement Program (PIP),” he said. “That means not only how to create a look that makes the hotel more marketable to guests, but also how to deliver that within the brand standards and how to enhance the value to improve cash flow.”
The good news for designers is that seeking out commissions from clients such as NCSC has more scope for creativity than ever before. That’s particularly true for soft brands strategically flying over some independents, says Isenberg. This year’s Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design show just how much fresh thinking clients, hotel companies and designers are bringing to all sectors of the hotel industry. As the nearly 400 entries prove, there’s no star-rating on cool.