HOTELS Interview: Acme Chicago’s Gene Kornota

The hot segment of the moment, 3-star lifestyle hotels, has another player from Chicago in the form of the Neighborhood Development Corp. (NDC) and its Acme Hotel Company hotel set to open in May in the city’s River North neighborhood.

NDC is spending US$3 million-plus on the former Comfort Inn & Suites to reposition the property as a boutique hotel alternative with hip design, a high-tech vibe, a vibrant lobby bar-restaurant scene, approachable accommodations and a below-comp set prices.

The 130 rooms will feature 46-inch LED TVs with easy Apple and HDMI connections, as well as upscale audio systems in the 25 suites. It is further tricked-out with its 100 MB bandwidth system allowing guests faster Wi-Fi and the ability to download and view their own content.

While NDC’s President and Co-Founder Gene Kornota said Acme is a one-off development for now, he is interested in expanding the concept. Kornota recently spoke to HOTELS Magazine about the concept and his plans going forward.

HOTELS: Do you have plans to expand the Acme brand?

Gene Kornota: We always have aspirations. I think the name can be a great brand for expansion, but when we decided on this name and hotel, we had no intentions of expanding. We created the product to fill a niche in Chicago. If we are privileged enough to take this elsewhere, it would take on different flavors in different cities.

Acme here reflects Chicago’s creativity and vibrant neighborhoods and might not be an ideal fit for another city, but at least the elements we are introducing here can be tailored elsewhere. However, we have no immediate plans or anything on the horizon for it.

I would love to do more of these. It would be great. But the market has stifled capital so we are trying to be realistic about it. Hopefully, business will continue to move in an upward direction as they have been and things will start to look more optimistic.

HOTELS: What is the inspiration for Acme Hotel Company?

Kornota: I do a fair amount of traveling and I always stay in boutique lifestyle hotels. Acme is inspired by a variety of hotels with bits and pieces from many. For example, a work table from the Standard in New York, or the casualness and hipness of the Acme hotel in New York.

The idea here is to keep the operating cost model down, to create a very approachable and accessible hotel both from price point and from things more common in the hotel service sector that make people feel uncomfortable – like ordering up hotel roomservice. The idea here is a “knock and drop” concept, fully recyclable where a guest picks it up at the door without having to worry about tipping, etc. That is an idea we have been brewing for awhile.

Ad material for the Acme Hotel Company, Chicago <br></br>
Ad material for the Acme Hotel Company, Chicago

HOTELS: What do you expect to achieve rate wise?

Kornota: The idea here is to be cheaper, so we will be starting at US$150 and price ourselves under the comp set.

HOTELS: How are you managing this hotel redevelopment based on business conditions?

Kornota: The amount of cash we have going in allows us to compete and bring it to an affordable scale. We didn’t buy it at US$440,000 per key at the top of the market. We bought it 10 years ago and renovated it then, so we are in a good position. We developed it as a Comfort Inn 10 years ago.

HOTELS: Do you have other partners in this project?

Kornota: Yes. Gold Coast Hotel Group owns the underlying land. Twelve years ago they came to us for a proposal and since then we have done a number of joint ventures. They provided the land, we provided the equity, did the turnkey construction, handled the management and gave them a guaranteed price. It has been a great partnership since. We did the Dana Hotel together in Chicago, as well as the Hotel Indigo here.

Guestroom at the Acme Hotels Company, Chicago <br></br>
Guestroom at the Acme Hotels Company, Chicago

HOTELS: Tell us more about Neighborhood Development Corp.

Kornota: We have developed eight hotels and five in Chicago. First we developed Neighborhood Inns of Chicago and sold those in late 90s. But we still have five hoels in our portfolio: a luxury independent boutique in Memphis called the Madison Hotel, the Indigo, Dana and Acme, as well as the Hawthorne Terrace, which is a Best Western Plus walking distance to Wrigley Field (in Chicago).

HOTELS: Do you have other development plans?

Kornota: Not at this time. We have been refreshing our properties. We completely refreshed The Madison and Hawthorne Terrace, and we are rebranding this hotel to position it for what we hope is an appreciating market here shortly.