The Fan’s first boutique hotel is officially in the works.
The Shenandoah building at 501 N. Allen Ave. is in line to be converted into a roughly 70-room hotel. The six-story building sits just north of the circle on Monument Avenue where the Lee statue once stood.
The formal plans were confirmed last week by Ari Heckman, CEO of ASH NYC, which bought the property in the fall for $3.5 million but hadn’t disclosed its intentions for the site at the time.
ASH owns three boutique hotels in Detroit, New Orleans and Providence and has two in the works in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Heckman said he sees an opening in Richmond, despite nearby competitors like Quirk Hotel, the Graduate Richmond and The Jefferson Hotel.
“I like The Jefferson. I love an old grand dame hotel. That’s not necessarily in my aesthetic, but it serves that role in the community,” Heckman said.
“To me, there wasn’t an obvious place (in Richmond) that fit the model that we seek to create. I was also just super attracted to the Fan being this wonderfully historic neighborhood that I’d say is one of the 10 best mixed-use historic districts I’ve been to in the U.S.”
With 35,000 square feet, The Shenandoah previously served as the headquarters of local ad firm The Martin Agency in the 1980s and most recently was a senior living facility.
The parcel is currently zoned residential, so ASH is seeking a special-use permit to allow for a hotel. Mark Kronenthal of Roth Jackson is representing ASH in the entitlement process.
ASH is budgeting about $15 million for the renovation of The Shenandoah and expects to begin work in the latter half of 2022. Plans include a lobby-area cocktail bar and cafe, something Heckman said they’ve done in ASH’s other hotels.
Commonwealth Architects is the project’s architect. Heckman said they don’t yet have a general contractor or name selected for the hotel.
“Because the building is in the condition it’s in, the renovation process is pretty straightforward. I hope to open by the end of 2023,” Heckman said.
Founded by Heckman and Jonathan Minkoff in New York in 2008, ASH is a real estate development, interior design and hotel management firm.
Heckman acknowledged that having one company do those three seemingly disparate tasks is atypical.
“Most (companies) tend to focus on their one discipline. For us it’s always come down to control and my own personal desire to always be rooted in creativity as my North Star,” he said.
“I decided that in order to implement what I wanted to do creatively, there was no better way than to control the real estate and the project. That was how I got into real estate development, almost as a means to an end.”
Heckman said it was in 2013 while developing their first hotel in Rhode Island, The Dean, that they decided to get into management.
“We imagined we were going to just turn it over to an operator or third party manager. We were deep, deep, deep, deep into the development process and almost finishing the project, and we couldn’t find an operator we were super excited about,” Heckman said.
“Something felt very sad and hollow about turning it over to a third party that wasn’t actually part of creating the product, and we felt that disconnect would be very apparent to the guest.”
Heckman likens their approach of developer, designer and operator to that of innkeepers.
“I feel like so many other things of American life, the hotel industry got very corporatized. There are a lot of franchises that are masquerading as boutiques but are really a paint-by-numbers kit of parts,” Heckman said.
“Because we’re the designers of our hotels, every hotel has a very specific point of view. Every finish and piece of furniture is something that we either design and manufacture, or is antique and vintage furniture that we collect from all over the globe.”
Heckman said he sees a lot of similarities between Richmond and his hometown of Providence, with each being historic capital cities with university anchors and similar sized-populations. He said ASH’s other hotels have succeeded in drawing in locals as well as out-of-towners, and that he hopes the same for the Richmond spot.
“The ultimate measure of our success is if the people in the neighborhood make (the hotel) their own. We want to be the natural meeting point and living room for the neighborhood,” Heckman said. “That’s as or more important than creating a foundation for people from out of town to visit the hotel.”