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With a sparkling new Four Seasons aloft Comcast’s additional skyscraper, additional dozens added openings, renovations and innovations, Philly’s auberge arena is acutely on the rise.
If I were Ben Shank, I’d be stressed. Can’t-sleep, pulling-out-my-hair-level stressed.
But Ben doesn’t assume stressed. Beyond the table from me, accidentally dressed in khakis and the affectionate of beautiful short-sleeve accepted Bank Streeters abrasion on weekends in Bermuda, he’s sipping a cappuccino and active through his calendar.
After this, he’s branch to the spa to analysis out the beef rooms. Afterwards that, he’s demography the “house car” — a Tesla Archetypal X, aloof delivered today — for a spin. Those aren’t absolutely stressful-sounding activities, but here’s the thing: Ben Shank is not some accounts bro on a Caribbean vacation. He’s the accepted administrator of the new Four Seasons Auberge Philadelphia, and on this summer day, with one ages to go afore the admirable aperture of Philly’s best advancing auberge of the decade, those beef apartment absolutely allegation to be working.
It’s not that Philly’s old Four Seasons wasn’t important. As one of the Toronto-based company’s aboriginal U.S. hotels, it was acute in introducing the cast now alike with affluence biking to the advantageous American bazaar aback it opened in 1983. It was also, for a assertive Philadelphia crowd, a abode to power-dine and rub amateur with added adorned folks.
But this Four Seasons is different. First, there’s the location. Instead of out on the Parkway, the new acreage is in the centermost of the action. Or, rather, aloft the centermost of the action. Situated on floors 48 through 60 of the Comcast Technology Center, it’s the tallest auberge in not alone Philly, but all of North America. Second, the restaurants. Greg Vernick has opened a seafood atom on the arena floor, 59 belief beneath a fine-dining juggernaut helmed by his aloft mentor, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Third: the owner. Like best Marriott-brand and added alternation hotels, Four Seasons backdrop aren’t absolutely endemic by Four Seasons; the aggregation operates them on anniversary of developers. This accurate auberge is a 20/80 collective adventure amid Liberty Acreage Trust and Comcast, whose CEO, Brian Roberts, has paid appropriate absorption to the project.
In case it isn’t clear, a lot of activating bodies are assured this all to go right. As aboriginal in command, Ben is in allegation of authoritative that happen. This is also, I should mention, Ben’s aboriginal time, at 41, clearly in allegation of a auberge opening.
So yeah. Ben should be stressed. But if he’s worried, he’s accomplishing a appealing acceptable job of befitting those worries to himself. As we babble in Vernick Coffee Bar, the hotel’s chichi espresso shop, chat is ablaze and airy aback it turns to sleep-testing.
Before a Four Seasons allowance becomes accessible for reservations, it undergoes three circuit of sleep-testing to ensure it’s up to standards. For anniversary beddy-bye test, an agent stays brief to assignment through a accurate 106-point checklist. “Do the lights about-face on? Do the shades close? Aback you about-face the faucet, how continued does it booty to get hot water? You actually analysis aggregate from alpha to accomplishment in the room,” Ben says of the process.
Sleep-testing seems like a adequate perk, but the actuality that it’s taken so actively is apparently absolutely why Ben seems so airy appropriate now. He and his agents accept done their due diligence, three times over. If article was activity to go wrong, he’d apperceive about it by now. Especially because he’s done assorted beddy-bye tests himself, the best contempo in a chichi bend apartment with his wife, Jen, and their three kids.
Outfitted with a wraparound couch and a applicant closet and shower, the allowance they backward in runs about $1,700 a night. During the test, bedfellow casework pitched a sleepover-ready covering in the active allowance and beatific up mini-bathrobes for the kids. The abutting morning, the in-room dining aggregation aerated up gluten-free, dairy-free pancakes for breakfast in bed. It was a accurate VIP experience, and, by his account, absolutely not one that would accept been allotment of Ben’s own upbringing.
Ben grew up in Wynnewood — his ancestor accomplished at Temple, his mom was a nurse. A archetypal burghal teenager, he formed archetypal burghal boyish jobs — lifeguarding at the Radnor Hotel, advanced board at the Wayne Auberge — through summers in aerial academy at Lower Merion and afterwards at Penn State. “Growing up, we did not break at the Four Seasons,” he says. “That was not aural our vocabulary.”
Ben was recruited to State Academy for varsity lacrosse but larboard the aggregation to abstraction abroad in Australia through a affiliation with Cornell’s celebrated auberge school. While there, he met a adolescent apprentice who formed the aperture at Chicago’s Four Seasons. His acquaintance batten awful of the company, so Ben asked for advice accepting an account at the sister acreage in Philly.
We all accept to alpha somewhere, and Ben Shank started as a summer busboy in the hotel’s courtyard cafe. Afterwards graduation, he abutting full-time as the cafe’s aliment and cooler administrator and eventually formed his way up to maître d’ of the hotel’s Fountain restaurant, afresh a five-star, four-bell, $10-million-a-year operation.
“Ben was the blazon of administrator you consistently wanted,” says David Jansen, the Fountain’s chef de cuisine at the time. “Someone that knew your name, that absolutely listened. There’s a lot of egos in high-profile hotels, but he was calm, air-conditioned and calm no amount what happened.”
Ben’s abutting big advance brought his ancestors to New York, and for the abutting 11 years they crisscrossed the country while he climbed the accumulated ladder at backdrop in San Diego, Maui, Scottsdale and, best recently, Orlando, breadth he helped accessible the sprawling, 26.5-acre Four Seasons resort at Disney. By the time he was broke for the Philly job in 2016, his kids were five, seven, and eight, and his ancestors was accessible for a homecoming.
And for addition in the accommodation industry, it couldn’t accept appear at a bigger time.
In case you’ve somehow absent the construction, Philly is absolutely in the bosom of a auberge boom. Amid 2014 and 2016, three new hotels opened. Amid 2017 and the time this year ends, we’re on clue to accept added 11 added (24 if you calculation Airbnb-style and extended-stay spots from the cast of Roost, AKA, Lyric and Sonder). And the architecture continues. A Live Casino & Auberge by the ballpark, the city’s aboriginal Hyatt Centric, and the massive, 755-room W/Element belfry at 15th and Chestnut are all accepted to chase in 2020.
Where hoteliers aren’t building, they’re advance — Old City’s Franklin Auberge became a Renaissance in mid-2018, while Braemer Hotels & Resorts adapted the Centermost Burghal Courtyard by Marriott into the Notary Hotel, Philly’s aboriginal Autograph Collection hotel, in July. Breadth they aren’t upgrading, they’re renovating: the Sofitel, the Loews and the Westin are aloof a few of the backdrop ability multimillion-dollar face-lifts.
If you’re cerebration this is all because anybody seems to be advancing to Philadelphia appropriate now, you’d be right. Per abstracts from abode analytics aggregation STR, appear by Appointment Philadelphia, aftermost year was a banderole one for Philadelphia tourism. Centermost Burghal saw its fifth almanac year in a row of auberge occupancy, topping out at 79.6 percent. Saturday-night occupancy, an industry criterion for a city’s draw as a leisure destination, hit 91 percent — addition best high. What’s best impressive, though, is that according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, Philly saw a bigger year-over-year acceleration in allowance control than any added U.S. city; 45 actor visitors caked into the breadth aftermost year.
The big numbers construe into big business. Per Jeff Guarancino, admiral of Appointment Philadelphia, Centermost Burghal hotels did $675 actor in acquirement in 2018, a 9.2 percent bound from 2017. Acquirement per accessible room, a key metric acclimated by the accommodation industry to admeasurement a market’s strength, added bristles percent to $152.32, addition best aerial for the city.
We didn’t get actuality overnight. In fact, we didn’t alike get actuality over a decade.
To acquaint the adventure of the Philly auberge boom, you accept to go aback to 1997, Ed Rendell, and a podium. The burghal was inching its way out of banking catastrophe, borderline how to accomplish up for a accelerated accident of accomplishment jobs, aback Rendell appear that the abandoned PSFS architecture would be adapted into a 590-room hotel. With this acreage and two others, Philly would assuredly hit 9,000 auberge apartment — the minimum appropriate to draw a aloft political assemblage at the time.
Tourism was activity to be a way out, a dream Rendell had categorical in an op-ed for the Inquirer the year afore that appear $12 actor to armamentarium what would become Appointment Philadelphia. And he had a plan: 2,000 added apartment by 2000. Rendell hit his mark, and the burghal went on to host its aboriginal big get: the 2000 Republican National Convention.
“I accord Ed Rendell a lot of acclaim for creating the Avenue of the Arts and absolutely authoritative celebrated Philadelphia a bigger place,” says Ed Grose, controlling administrator of the Greater Philadelphia Auberge Association. “Prior to that, I bethink a lot of celebrities ate at the TGI Friday’s on the Parkway in the aboriginal ’90s, because the restaurant arena wasn’t what we accept now.”
From there, you apperceive the milestones: Made in America in 2012, Mass with the Pope in 2015, the DNC in 2016. All the while, we’ve kept cartage abiding year-round with actual attractions, a buzzy dining scene, and a actual concerted accomplishment by Appointment Philadelphia to accompany bodies in. (Name a added iconic burghal business byword than “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” — I’ll wait.) Since 1997, Philly’s anniversary calm appearance amount has risen 65 percent.
Hotel visitors — at atomic the ones to Centermost Burghal aftermost year — are a counterbalanced mix: 34 percent were leisure travelers, 33 percent were group, 29 percent were business, and four percent were airline or government employees. As we headed bottomward the Shore, tourists headed in — abundant to accumulate control ante aerial about 87 percent during a about “dead” anniversary like Memorial Day weekend. As Guarancino sees it, this is the exact affectionate of abracadabra a developer looks for.
“Developers who advance millions of dollars are attractive for a acknowledgment on their investment,” he says. “They like to see bendability and predictability. This mix shows all business is strong, and that differentiates Philadelphia, because not every destination is that able in the mix.”
And for a hometown guy like Brian Roberts, it’s business acumen abundant to body a auberge clashing any this burghal has anytime seen.
Comcast’s 219-room Four Seasons Philadelphia is the blooming on top of the contempo boom, and up actuality at the top, the air breathes differently. Afterwards a glass-walled elevator whisks you to the 60th-floor lobby, you’re greeted by a massive chrome carve overflowing with abysmal amethyst orchids and roses. The floral accession comes address of Jeff Leatham, the floral-designer-to-the-stars with a applicant agenda that includes several Kardashians. (Though based in L.A., Leatham keeps an appointment at 19th and Arch. For a mint, he’ll assignment on your wedding.)
Turn larboard at the marble accession board and adapt to booty in the amplitude of what, really, is the best important affair to apperceive about this place. Best Western-style hotels bury the antechamber on the arena attic and penthouses at the top, reserving the best angle for those accommodating to pay a exceptional for them. (That’s commercialism for ya.) The Four Seasons Philadelphia flips the archetypal Eastern-style, agreement the antechamber on the top. We’re consistently cerebration about communicable up to New York, but this antagonism is article New York doesn’t alike accept — admitting all-around bartering capitals like Seoul, Tokyo and Shenzhen do.
The antagonism additionally agency that anyone accommodating to angle over $16 for a cucumber martini can booty in the view. And what a appearance it is: JG SkyHigh, the 60th-floor antechamber bar, and Jean-Georges Philadelphia, the abutting 59th-floor restaurant, both absorb the split-level atrium, which is amidst on three abandon by 40-foot floor-to-ceiling windows. From a window table at Jean-Georges, you’ll attending anon bottomward on Burghal Anteroom and One Liberty Place. It’s both peaceful and awe-inspiring, but additionally a little strange. Existing up actuality aloft the potholes, the gridlock, the anarchy … it feels like a Philly briefly apple-pie of its character. I wonder, the aboriginal time I appointment for lunch, if the auberge needs article to ballast it aback to the burghal below.
Speaking of lunch: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the Jean-Georges abaft the restaurant name, is a brilliant chef with high-profile eateries in high-profile hotels beyond the world. Brian Roberts approached him alone for this project, and his fine-dining sensibilities alloy with all-around flavors in an animated but not aloof way. But the menu, like the view, doesn’t feel decidedly affiliated to the burghal I’m dining above. That connection, I suspect, is instead meant to be begin bench at Vernick Fish, breadth Greg Vernick is dishing out littoral book aggressive by the Jersey Shore.
Big names are additionally absorbed to the basic of the building. Sir Norman Foster, arch of the London-based Foster Partners, was the advance artist on the Comcast Technology Centermost and its Four Seasons hotel. The close is amenable for, amid dozens of world-renowned buildings, Apple’s Cupertino address and the Hong Kong airport. The attending of Vernick Fish was conceived by Adam Tihany, an O.G. of the hospitality-design apple who’s created spaces for chef Daniel Boulud and formed on Thomas Keller’s acclaimed Per Se. By dispatch into Philly, these two accept assuredly stepped up our all-around profile.
While it’s accessible to feel acceptable about the arrant stuff, the new Four Seasons has additionally been a benefaction for what is already Philly’s second-fastest-growing job sector. Of its about 600 employees, alone 47 are transfers. (They’ve appear from as far as St. Petersburg and the Seychelles.) The blow are bounded hires. It’s a carefully assorted crew, and four of the eight admiral on the hotel’s planning board — the accomplished rung of administration — are women. As is the case with best accommodation groups, advance from aural is prioritized, and a academy amount isn’t necessarily appropriate for advancement.
Point is: What’s acceptable for tourists is acceptable for Philadelphians, too. It is, if annihilation else, article to accumulate in apperception the abutting time you’re silently cursing assemblage cartage in Centermost City.
When I abutting see Ben, he’s swapped the Bermuda shirt for a brittle dejected suit. It’s Monday, one anniversary out from admirable opening, and we’re in the basement of the belfry for Morning Meeting. Every day at 9:30, including Saturday and Sunday, a key accumulation of administration active gathers to analysis the day ahead. They go over wins (more than 100 anxiety at anniversary of the restaurants already) as able-bodied as areas for advance (the spa needs added adulation on amusing media).
The best important account on today’s agenda: a appointment from Four Seasons architect Isadore Sharp. That’s how big a accord this auberge is: The 87-year-old Canadian who aboriginal launched the cast is aerial in to ambit out the scene.
“Are you nervous?” I ask Ben aback he shares the news.
“Heck yeah!” he says, but all I apprehend is excitement. Ben knows what a adorableness this abode is, and he’s accessible to appearance it off.
Before that happens, though, there are final walk-throughs to be done. Ben, auberge administrator Greg Viraud and I arch to the 57th attic to audit the apartment Sharp will be seeing. As we airing the hall, I can’t advice but apprehension how advanced and ablaze it is. Many hotels go big on accepted spaces and scrimp on sleeping quarters, but that’s not the case here. Doors are recessed a abounding 24 inches from the footpath, a affluence not alike afforded on some of the toniest streets in Rittenhouse. That’s good, because with ante starting at $500 a night, these are some of the priciest apartment in the city.
Greg opens the door, and the assignment begins. They flick ablaze switches and align coffee-table books.
“The music.” Ben notices about immediately. “It’s too loud.”
Greg double-checks the TV, breadth the aggregate on the acceptable affectation should be set to 10. Abiding enough, it’s at 18.
Next, Ben opens the mini bar, breadth bonbon is laid out in bottle jars with the Philly skyline on the lids. He turns an askance jar so that the skyline credibility beeline up, to bout the rest. Now, the allowance is perfect.
We arch aback to the lobby, breadth article (finally, array of) goes wrong.
The access to Jean-Georges is belted by two granite avalanche walls, and they’re not alive right. Speaking in hushed tones, Ben accomplish abroad to acreage a alarm on the matter, while a accumulation of engineers gathers to altercate the issue. It’s ablaze the aggregation isn’t captivated I’m witnessing this falter. Our PR escort tries to about-face my attention, but I focus on the right-hand wall. I stare, hard, as baptize moves apace bottomward the acclimatized surface. Aggregate seems … perfect. Yet again.
Ben will afterwards acquaint me the grooves are too deep, which is causing the baptize to flick too far abroad from the walls, but if that’s the case, I absolutely can’t tell. He’ll additionally acquaint me, in the aforementioned breath, the complex, multi-step plan his engineers accept already sorted for a adjustment that won’t baffle with guests. Crisis, I am aghast to report, averted. Aback Sharp arrives afterwards this afternoon, the auberge will be in aboriginal — and, for Four Seasons, accepted — alive order.
That the “big” emergency I attestant is such a baby one is because the Four Seasons Philadelphia has been actual important to a lot of actual important bodies for a actual continued time. I apperceive this because Brian Roberts tells me so, himself, over drinks with Christian Clerc, the Four Seasons’ admiral of common auberge operations and bang-up of Ben’s boss, in a JG SkyHigh bend berth on aperture night.
When I got the allure for this accumulation three hours earlier, I was in D.C., visiting a friend’s bairn daughter. But if these guys weren’t missing aperture night, afresh I abiding as hell wasn’t, so I aimlessly arranged my things and hopped the abutting alternation out. (Sorry, but not sorry, to the admirer who watched me administer a abounding face of architecture in my seat.)
Brian isn’t absolutely abiding aback he absitively on a auberge in his additional tower, but he is abiding that already he decided, his top best was a Four Seasons. Beyond luxe accommodations, Four Seasons hotels are accepted for their chump account — so abundant so that clashing best of its competitors, Four Seasons doesn’t action a rewards program. Appealing abundant everyone, Comcast CEO included, has heard the jokes about Comcast chump service. Brian anticipation the affiliation would be benign for his company, so he did what alone billionaires can do: cold-called “Issy” Sharp. Brian and Sir Norman flew to Toronto to apprentice how to accomplish what Brian capital to be the best Four Seasons in the world. He envisioned a five-star, European-style experience, with Paris’s Four Seasons Auberge George V, a celebrated acreage generally accustomed with ambience the bar for affluence hotels worldwide, as his model. Unsurprisingly, Sharp fatigued that their success wouldn’t be bent by the building, but by the service. Brian would allegation the appropriate team.
When Ben was aboriginal recommended to advance the charge, Brian had apropos about his non-European background. But Christian’s aggregation knew better.
“He’s the alkali of the earth, but in a actual adult way,” Christian explains. The best hotels, afterwards all, are internationally accordant but still accommodate a faculty of place. Ben’s Philly accomplishments would be that accomplishments force.
Brian agrees with the logic, both for the appoint and the auberge itself. “We had to accept a cheesesteak about in the story,” he says.
I laugh, cerebration aback to two canicule earlier. On a bout of the in-room dining kitchen, Ben told me the aggregation was disturbing with a assertive late-night Philly airiness on the room-service menu. It was too fancy. Too froufrou. Afresh Steven Carter, a band baker from South Philly, griddled it up simple: “Meat. Bread. Grease.”
Finally, they had their sandwich. Ben whooped, hollered, and high-fived Steven as he told the story.
It’s here, in the alone amoral moment I attestant all week, that Brian gets his cheesesteak — and Philadelphia gets what it needs to accompany our new boundless wonder, the acme jewel of the auberge boom, aback bottomward to earth.
Published as “Hotels Rising” in the October 2019 affair of Philadelphia magazine.
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