The Blackstone Group, a high-flying and well-heeled Wall Street private investment firm with $6 billion of real estate equity under management, has made The Peaks a charter member of its luxury hotel collection, LXR Luxury Resorts, whose strategy is to acquire and re-capitalize under-managed, one-of-a-kind hotels.
"We want to take it back to what it was meant to be," LXR sales and marketing president John Tolbert said Thursday. Like the other 20 hotels, spas, golf clubs and marinas in the LXR collection, Tolbert said The Peaks is "a trophy asset, an irreplaceable asset." And like those other hotels, it is an asset that has not quite lived up to its original promise.
"We need to bring the buzz back," added Russ Flicker, LXR president of development. "This should be an exciting place to be."
To help restore the buzz, to bring back the excitement, it seems no expense will be spared.
"Our vision is quite grand," said Flicker, pledging to devote whatever financial and human capital necessary to the goal of revitalizing the Mountain Village hotel.
If the LXR vision comes to fruition, every one of The Peaks' 174 rooms will be completely redone, as will the spa, the lobby and Great Room, all dining rooms and common areas… in short, every inch and corner of the cavernous property.
"Furniture, floors, walls everything will be completely new," said Flicker.
The proposed revitalization represents the first serious overhaul or upgrade of the hotel's physical character since its original development by Doral in the early 90s.
In addition to redesigning the existing hotel space, The Peaks' new owners hope to convert undeveloped residential density on lots they own next to the hotel to hotel density, and then to develop that density by means of four new hotel buildings, two of them towers of between seven and ten stories, that will, altogether, house between 30 and 35 new suites.
There will also be changes to the hotel's exterior, currently a somewhat curious statement in pastel stuccos that does nothing to dissemble The Peaks' architectural mass. Details were not disclosed but Flicker promised "something special," and said there were "opportunities for adding balconies, changing the palette, and increasing the amount of stone."
Inside, work on the hotel's Great Room will be concentrated on producing "less volume, more vision," by decreasing the room's soaring height and increasing the amount of "vision glass."
"In a mountain setting like this, it's all about the views," said Flicker.
All public spaces, Flicker said, will be "custom designed and completely new."
The motif in converting the hotel rooms will be decidedly contemporary and high-end, with lots of glass, fine wood, and black marble. Architects for the make-over project are Skidmore, Owens and Merrill, whose many credits include the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Tower in Chicago, the Bank of America headquarters in San Francisco, and China's new World Trade Center. SOM has also designed the proposed Freedom Tower to be built on the site of the former World Trade Center.
In addition to being made over, the rooms will also be put on the block for sale. Expanding on the hotel's historic experience with its penthouse condos, the LXR executives will bring The Peaks fully into the mainstream of current industry trends by selling its rooms and suites to private investors.
On timing, Flicker said, "We're full steam ahead. We want to do it all as soon as we can." He conceded, however, that it was unlikely, given the development approvals required, that work would commence before April of next year.
Regarding costs, Flicker was ambiguous. "Thirty, forty, fifty million dollars?" he guessed. "I don't know."
On addressing the difficulties of travel to our market, and adequately supporting the service levels that high-end users expect from luxury hotels, Flicker was more definite.
"We're digging into the challenges," he said. "We want to attack the issues head on."
While he had no specific thoughts on cures for such regional issues as affordable housing and transportation, he said his company looks forward "to being part of the solution."