Hotelier of the week: George Jordan
ABTN speaks to George Jordan, general manager Hotel Felix, a contender for the crown as Chicago’s greenest property.
Hotel Felix opened in 2009...
Yes, it was a gut rehab of an existing structure, the Hotel Wacker. It was built in the early 20s and over the years it had become delapidated and ended up being a place where people were renting by the week. We bought it in 2007, and reopened as the independent four-star boutique Hotel Felix in late March 2009, with 225 rooms.
The word Felix derives from the Latin for happy. That's part of our tagline, which is happy naturally. We're a happy place. And we’re Chicago's only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certified hotel.
Is that the highest LEED-rated hotel in Chicago?
It is for commercial interiors. I think there is another hotel that has a gold level for some kind of a lesser category, but we are considered the most eco-friendly hotel in Chicago.
So what went into the redevelopment of the hotel to make it green?
LEED has a lot of things you can do to gain points to become silver-certified. One of the biggest point getters is adaptive reuse of an existing structure. The land here in Chicago is very valuable, and it would many ways have beeen much simpler just to knock the building down and start over. Instead, we took this beautiful 1920s Beaux Arts facade and restored it. We knocked out the interior, added a tier of rooms and then rebuilt the structure essentially from the inside out, so that it would be a modern four-star hotel. By doing that we kept the existing structure – so all those bricks and all that stuff that's been here for 90 years is still in place – rather than just throwing it out and starting over. That's a really big thing as far as eco-friendly goes.
And then there's all of the interior stuff. All of the carpets are made from recycled glass and the walls are made from a special wallpaper. All the lighting is low-voltage. We recycle everything. We don't even have your standard piping for heat and air conditioning, and the thermostats in the room are motion sensor and heat sensor. For all of the amenities we use the H2O spa line, which is again good for the earth and they don't do any animal testing. Our coffee that we use in the hotel is free trade approved, same with the chocolates. So we really just did everything that we could from the ground up and through the continuing operations, to be earth friendly. But, you will not get a sense that you're wrapped in a burlap sack and it's a bunch of treehuggers that are running the place. It's still a luxury hotel.
Do you think the green element to hospitality is growing in importance?
I do, absolutely. I can't quantify it, because I don't know how many guests on a daily basis are making a choice to stay with us because we're a green-friendly hotel. But, we have a Facebook page and a Twitter page, and just from posts and things that people say, we know that people are booking the hotel because of the green element. We get a lot of really favourable publicity, and I'm sure that is garnering us more reservations. But it's hard to quantify it.
Do you think corporate guests are choosing to stay with you because you’re green?
Definitely. There have been a number of companies who have said that it is their own internal corporate policy to use green friendly hotels whenever possible. As a result, we're the hotel of choice.
Should other hotels be doing more on the green front?
It depends on what stage you're in. If you're doing a gut rehab it's a lot easier because you have the ability to build it all in right from the get go. So when you're talking about carpets and lighting, and electricity and heat pumps and mechanical systems, it's easier to do because you've got a shell of a building and you can build it right in.
In terms of ongoing operations anyone can do it, but it's a little bit more expensive. However, I do believe customers are expecting and demanding it. When they go into their rooms for instance, we have a waste basket with two sections – one for recycling, the other for trash. That’s an expense to buy that, but you buy it once. Your laundry bags can be made out of canvas rather than plastic, so they come back to you. The water that we use instead of coming all the way from Fiji, is from the city water system, filtered and packaged in a biodegradable container. That’s just easy stuff, and it makes the customers feel good.
How has Hotel Felix fitted into the Chicago hotel scene?
We are in the River North district. It’s the hip, trendy area of town, with lots of clubs, galleries and shops. More and more hotels seem to want to develop in this neck of the woods, and I think part of it is because of the success of this hotel. We run a very high occupancy and a very good rate, and it’s no secret that we’re a big hit here in the Chicago market.
There are a number of other hotels that are blossoming here, so it’s becoming known for its interesting hotel scene. Richard Branson announced the first Virgin hotel will be here, just down the street from us in fact. The Radisson Aqua Blu, is also opening down the road, as is the Langham. We’ve got the full range of hotels here. It’s a pretty vibrant hotel scene.