A Hotel for The Town

Retailer West Elm is teaming up with Signature Development Group to build a new Uptown hotel that celebrates Oakland’s resurgence.


Guests will be able to purchase West Elm bedding and furnishings after leisurely trying them out.

Photo courtesy of West Elm Hotels

In the age of Airbnb, localismo is the new rage in lodging.

That’s the premise behind a proposed 150-room hotel in Oakland’s Uptown district designed by retailer West Elm. The new hotel, the first in the downtown area in more than 15 years, would feature locally sourced furnishings and art alongside West Elm’s designs, and performances by local musicians.

“People want a residential experience,” said David Bowd, a principal of West Elm Hotels. “They want to live like a local, to be connected to the neighborhood near a hotel, with all of the great services of a hotel brought in as well. We are going to be doing that.”

The rooms will be outfitted with West Elm bedding and furnishings that customers will be able to purchase after spending a night or more, leisurely trying them out.

West Elm’s vision, which it is currently pursuing in a more than a half-dozen U.S. cities simultaneously, was what convinced Oakland developer Signature Development Group to pivot from its original plan to build just a residential project at 24th Street and Broadway in the city’s Uptown district and partner with West Elm instead.

“It’s been foundational to all our discussions for a year now,” said Signature President Mike Ghielmetti, a big Oakland booster, who hopes to start construction next year. “What we’re trying to create here in Oakland is a showcase of Oakland: it’s people, its vendors, its goods and services.”

The six-story project at 2401 Broadway will also include 70 apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space and will occupy space once used for an automobile showroom. It will incorporate a historic facade preserved from a 1910s Beaux Arts structure designed by celebrated Bay Area architect Frederick H. Meyer.

Ghielmetti said the complex will capitalize on the unique location, smack in the center of the city’s Auto Row, which has been rapidly transforming into an arts and entertainment, retail, and residential district with restaurants, bars, art venues, and apartments. The hotel, for example, will reflect the area’s industrial past in architectural elements.

Ghielmetti also touted a rooftop bar that will show off the area’s skyline of old warehouses and new development. “It will be fun. There are other fabulous hotels like the Claremont Resort with views of the Bay Bridge and the hills. In this case, it’s really going to be stitched into urban fabric of the Uptown area,” he said.

The building will be adjacent to the Hive, another Signature development that includes 105 apartments, 100,000 square feet of offices, along with Drake’s Brewing, Impact Hub Oakland, Calavera restaurant, Truve Fitness, Firebrand Artisan Breads, and People’s Barber & Shop. Jordan Real Estate Investments is also a partner.

Photo Courtesy of West Elm Hotels

West Elm, an international retailer that is based in Brooklyn and owned by San Francisco-based Williams Sonoma, has built its brand selling home goods that include products from local artisans.

The company announced last September that it was working with local developers and the hotel operating company DDK to open a chain of hotels. All the properties are in cities that have experienced urban resurgences that make them particularly interesting places, said Peter Fowler, vice president of West Elm’s nascent hospitality division. In addition to Oakland, properties are planned for Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit, Mich.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Savannah, Ga., and Portland, Ore., in the next couple of years.

Although guests will be able to purchase West Elm furnishings and artwork found in any room, Fowler said that increasing product sales through the hotels is not the primary goal. “We are really growing our brand outside of the retail landscape, connecting with customers beyond buying products,” Fowler said.

It’s hardly the first time that a brand has jumped into hotels, said Rick Swig, a hospitality industry consultant in San Francisco. There are Virgin Hotels, Hard Rock Hotels, Armani, Bulgari, and Karl Lagerfeld hotels. The fitness club chain Equinox is getting into hotels and Corte Madera-based Restoration Hardware is reported to be developing a boutique hotel in Manhattan near one of its stores, though the company declines to comment.

“This is just a derivative of what has been done for last several decades,” said Swig.

What sets West Elm’s approach apart, however, is its focus on connecting to its host cities’ cultures. “Oakland is a really fascinating place,” Fowler said. “What really excites us and makes us thrive from a creative and programming perspective is thinking about how cities and local neighborhoods have evolved.”

The company has promised to incorporate design elements from local communities to “reflect traditional décor, handicraft, cuisine, and culture from the region.”

In Portland, for example, the project will take advantage of its location at a 19th-century industrial complex where locomotives, marine vessels, paper-making machinery, Civil War gunboats, and equipment to build the Panama Canal were once manufactured.

The Oakland project would be Signature’s first hotel development and would offer the first new hotel in the downtown area since 2002 at a time when demand and room rates are rising, said Mark McDermott, senior vice president of hotel brokerage and investment sales at CBRE.

The city has seen convention and meeting activity increase as businesses locate in Oakland to avoid pricier areas, and Oakland has become more of a leisure destination as well, he said.

“Now hotel developers are looking at Oakland as a great investment opportunity,” McDermott said.

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