Four-Star Condos

A doorman and room service for a condo? Developers are courting buyers with the amenities of a four-star hotel.

By: Mary Clare Glover

At the foot of Key Bridge in Rosslyn, two 300-foot glass towers are rising from the banks of the Potomac. Architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners—cofounded by I.M. Pei and renowned for the East Building of the National Gallery of Art—designed the soaring contemporary buildings. Called Waterview, the property opens over the next several months with a fitness center, two restaurants, and a gourmet wine-and-cheese shop.

One of the towers will be home to the Hotel Palomar and, above the hotel, 133 condominiums. Condo owners will share the hotel’s amenities, including room and maid service, in-residence spa treatments, dry-cleaning and shoe-shining services, and a concierge who can make dinner reservations or charter a yacht. Residents will pay for services à la carte.

Similar hotel/condo projects are filling Washington’s development pipeline. In Alexandria, the Jamieson’s 79 condominiums will sit atop a new Westin Hotel. Residents will be able to use the hotel’s pool and fitness center, valet parking, housekeeping and room service, and catering. The Jamieson expects move-ins to begin before the end of the year.

In DC’s Woodley Park, Chevy Chase development company JBG is renovating the historic Wardman Park Hotel and adding a condo building where residents will have privileges at the hotel. And near Dupont Circle, the Washington Hilton is talking with DC officials about adding condos as part of a $150-million renovation.

William Rich of real-estate research firm Delta Associates says hotel/condos draw urbanites who travel frequently, don’t spend a lot of time at home, and don’t like to cook or worry about mowing the lawn. Downsizing empty-nesters make up a big chunk of the market, as do young professionals with no children.

“Hotel/condos target those who don’t want to have to worry about any type of maintenance,” says Rich.

The idea of living in a hotel is not new. In the early 20th century, luxury hotels like the Waldorf-Astoria and the Plaza in Manhattan had many full-time residents, although most were renters, not owners. In the 1980s, the Watergate in Foggy Bottom earned the nickname “White House West” for the Reagan friends and allies from California who lived in the hotel for months at a time.

The Ritz-Carlton introduced Washington to hotel-affiliated condos when it opened its Ritz-Carlton Residences, first in the West End in 2000 then in Georgetown in 2003. Ritz targeted Washington’s wealthy—names like Republican insider Tom Korologos and former Hewlett-Packard head Carly Fiorina—and offered amenities such as libraries, butlers, and staff quarters. Today the bulk of the condos in the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown are worth more than $2 million.

Joe Long, an executive at Kimpton Hotels—the boutique chain that manages Hotel Palomar—says that hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons began incorporating residential components more than ten years ago to help finance the running of a five-star hotel.

“In the last five years, a lot of developers have recognized that buyers are interested in that level of service but may not be able to afford the super high end,” says Long. As a result, such hotels as Kimpton, Westin, and Marriott have gotten into the game.

Although the new condos can be expensive—prices in the Waterview top $5 million—they also offer more-affordable units. Waterview prices start in the $400,000s; Jamieson units are priced from the high $300,000s.

For these hotels new to the trend, condos provide an extra revenue stream—in most cases, the hotel charges residents for services à la carte—and absorb some construction costs. Says Long about the new Hotel Palomar, “Frankly, if it was just a hotel, it probably would not have been developed.”

To keep up with this competition, traditional condos are offering hotel-like amenities but without the hotel.

“We’re not on top of a Four Seasons,” says Kettler’s Jamie Gorski, whose company is developing five high-end condo and apartment projects in the area, “but we want our residents to feel like they are.”

Ketler’s Midtown North and Midtown Reston Town Center opened in Reston Town Center this fall. Residents use a fitness club with a massage room and outdoor heated pool, valet parking, and doorman. VIP Desk, the international concierge company behind OnStar, can pick out a birthday present or book a Pilates instructor.

Related developments include Midtown Bethesda North and Midtown Alexandria. Midtown Largo Station is scheduled for completion later this year.

Residents at the Trillium Bethesda, which opens in 2009 with 173 residences, will have valet parking, a spa with massage and steam rooms, pool, and fitness center. Quintessentially, a London-based “luxury-lifestyle company,” provides concierge services to Trillium buyers even now, while the building is under construction. One phone call nets everything from travel accommodations to tickets to sold-out sporting or theater events. When residents move in, the condo association will decide whether to use Quintessentially as an on-site concierge.

Condos in the Metropole near DC’s Logan Circle—scheduled for completion late next summer—will be above a restaurant, a Bang Salon & Spa, and a 25,000-square-foot Vida fitness facility. Metropolis Development Company CEO Scott Pannick says the company plans to work with a restaurant that will provide room service.

Residents can reserve two suites in the building for out-of-town guests, and a concierge is already available to help new buyers prepare to move in.

Sidney Stolz, a 46-year-old healthcare consultant, travels frequently for business and was tired of keeping up his five-story brownstone near Dupont Circle. He bought a three-bedroom condo in the Metropole for its location and convenience—plus the on-site gym and services like valet parking. He already has concierge Edwin Gonzalez’s number programmed into his cell phone.

“I have no doubt that Edwin will take care of whatever I need,” says Stolz. “When you spend a lot of time on the road, that’s a very comforting feeling.”