Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Portland’s newest hotel takes newspaper theme to the extreme!
The Press Hotel, which opens for business Tuesday in the former Portland Press Herald building at 119 Exchange St., is equal parts luxury accommodations and homage to newspaper journalism.
Every design choice was made to evoke newsrooms of the early to mid-20th century or the concept of journalism itself, from vintage-looking desks and chairs to a hotel logo that resembles typewriter keys.
“We are trying to really pull through some of the branding elements of the media, printing and things like that,” said Jim Brady, the hotel’s developer.
Even the interior color scheme resembles the pages of a newspaper, with black slate and white marble accented by deeply stained walnut.
Guest floor hallways are adorned with real Press Herald headlines from yesteryear, such as “Elderly lobster set free,” “Honest warden, the doe really had an antler” and “Man yanks skunk from jar, runs.”
Brady said great care was taken to match new materials with old in the historic building, which housed the Press Herald from 1923 until 2010. For instance, its white marble entryway on Exchange Street has been restored and improved to meet modern accessibility standards, he said.
The hotel’s 1,200-square-foot penthouse suite is in the spot formerly occupied by the office of late Press Herald Publisher Guy P. Gannett, whose company, Guy Gannett Communications, owned and operated the newspaper from 1921 to 1998. The suite features a rooftop patio with stunning views of Munjoy Hill and Casco Bay.
ATTENTION TO HISTORICAL DETAILS
The Press Herald, founded in 1921 with the merger of the Portland Daily Press and the Portland Herald, has gone on to become Maine’s largest daily newspaper.
The Press Hotel will operate under its own brand but will be associated with the Autograph Collection, a portfolio of more than 75 boutique hotels around the globe.
Marriott International Inc. created the Autograph Collection as a separate business venture to market a group of independently branded hotels and provide their guests with access to Marriott’s reservation system and rewards program. Summer rates for a basic room start at $278 on weekdays and $323 on weekends, according to Marriott’s reservation website.
The hotel will be managed by Trust Hospitality LLC, a boutique-hotel management firm based in Coral Gables, Florida. The former Press Herald building, between Exchange and Market streets on the south side of Congress Street, was built in two sections, a seven-story portion in 1923 and a five-story addition in 1948. It had been sitting vacant since the newspaper relocated to One City Center in 2010.
Brady said one of the greatest challenges associated with creating the hotel was adhering to strict standards for historical preservation that allowed the project to receive special tax credits.
“The entire plan, the interior, had to be approved by the National Park Service, which administers the (Federal) Historic (Preservation) Tax Credit program,” he said.
Brady, a longtime hotel developer and Olympic silver medal winner in yachting, specializes in repurposing historic commercial buildings.
He returned to Portland in 2011 after spending two years in Italy. In addition to the hotel, Brady also is working on redevelopment of the Portland Company Marine Complex on the eastern waterfront.
The former president of Olympia Development, the development arm of The Olympia Cos., Brady signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the property in June 2012 with John Cacoulidis, president of Grand Metro Builders of New York Corp.
FLOATING STAIRCASE, GALLERY, RESTAURANT
Cacoulidis purchased the building in 2009 from the newspaper’s parent company, MaineToday Media Inc. He gutted the interior with plans to convert the property into an office or mixed-use building, but later opted not to move forward.
Brady said the building cost $4 million, and that he spent an additional $12 million to renovate it. The total project cost of roughly $16 million does not include a 45 percent discount in state and federal tax credits that the project will receive.
Brady hired Portland-based general contractor Wright-Ryan Construction Inc. to convert the stripped-down building into a hotel with 110 guest rooms, a floating staircase, gallery space, health and fitness center, conference rooms, a standalone bar, and a 100-seat bar and restaurant.
The restaurant, called Union, initially was to be called M.C. Union and be overseen by James Beard Award-winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, owners of M.C. Perkins Cove in Ogunquit and M.C. Spiedo at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel. However, a Press Hotel representative said last week that the partnership with Gaier and Frasier had been dissolved, and that the restaurant’s executive chef instead would be Joshua Berry, a Maine native who most recently worked at the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont. Previously, Berry was executive chef at The Balsams Grand Resort in New Hampshire.
Union’s menu will feature locally sourced, contemporary dishes based on recognizable American favorites, according to The Press Hotel website. The hotel’s standalone lobby bar is called the Inkwell.
The gallery space will feature works by various local artists, Brady said. He also commissioned local artists to create newspaper-themed works throughout the hotel, such as painted woodblock carvings by Matt Hutton, an associate professor at the Maine College of Art.
Kevin Gough of Portland-based Archetype Architects was the project’s lead architect, and the hotel’s interior designer was New York-based Stonehill & Taylor Architects.
Gough said the hotel project was challenging because of the building’s age and the fact that its two sections were constructed 25 years apart. Fortunately, his firm has a lot of experience retrofitting existing structures and was able to maintain the building’s original look while converting it to an entirely new purpose.
“Keeping the building intact was important,” he said. “The reason we were involved in the project is because it’s a historic preservation project.”
ATTRACTION OF ‘REALLY UNIQUE HISTORY’
Brady also hired Portland-based Gunnar Hubbard, a principal and building sustainability practice leader for engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti Inc., to oversee the process of getting the hotel certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as an energy-efficient “green” building.
The Press Hotel opens at the tail end of a boom in hotel construction and renovation that has added more than 450 rooms to downtown Portland, a 50 percent increase in less than two years.
The 123-room Hyatt Place hotel opened last spring at Fore and Union streets, along with the 131-room Courtyard by Marriott on Commercial Street near the Portland Fish Pier. In December 2013, the former Eastland Park Hotel at Congress and High streets reopened as the completely renovated Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, with nearly 90 additional rooms.
Brady has conducted market research that he said shows there is sufficient consumer demand in the Portland market to support his new hotel, especially since it has such a strong and specific identity. He hopes the distinctive hotel will attract both business travelers and tourists.
“Oftentimes when you’re building a new building, there’s no story behind it, so you really have to come up with something out of thin air,” he said. “In this case we felt that we had a really unique history, and so then it was (about) figuring out how to tell the story of that history.”