By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
There was a time when Hotel Indigo rising up on Alexandria’s waterfront at all was in question.
The boutique hotel, which opened on May 5 on the 200 block of South Union Street, became ensnared in a prolonged and often nasty fight between vocal residents, the city and property developer Carr Hospitality from the project’s developmental stages.
Since the low point in 2012, when neighbors filed a lawsuit against the city, tensions have eased between residents and the hotelier. Improved relations stem in part from the effort Hotel Indigo’s management has made to reach out to the community directly and indirectly. It has enlisted local restaurateur Cathal Armstrong to open its in-hotel restaurant and the hotel will sell local goods in its in-house store.
Kate Ellis, general manager at Hotel Indigo, said those efforts aren’t unique to this location of the hotel, which has 75 locations in all and 45 across the U.S. – but they are particularly significant in a community like Old Town.
“We want people to have a local experience vs. something that’s cookie cutter. For Hotel Indigo, that’s particularly important because there’s such a strong community and such a strong bond between the community and local businesses,” Ellis said.
Though Ellis wasn’t present for most of the controversy surrounding the development of the property Hotel Indigo occupies, she said the relationship with the community is positive now.
“Thankfully, that’s something that happened during the development of the project. Now, there’s just local curiosity. As the project has come to life, there’s been a lot of excitement,” Ellis said.
The 120-room hotel expects to debut Armstrong’s new restaurant, Hummingbird Bar & Kitchen, next month. The restaurant will have 80 seats inside and 40 seats on the patio and will feature a menu centered around seafood and locally-sourced ingredients.
In addition to the restaurant, the hotel also includes local decor, including pieces from the Torpedo Factory, The Art League and local sculptor Chris Erney on a rotating basis.
Ellis is also uniquely equipped to engage the community, as someone who has worked in hospitality in Old Town, including Kimpton Property hotels, for just under a decade.
“I’ve been fortunate because I’ve worked in Old Town for the past eight years,” Ellis said. “We’re fortunate that this is a great community that really wraps itself around its neighborhood.”
Despite the hotel’s attempts to reach out to the community, some residents aren’t satisfied. Bert Ely, who was deeply involved in Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront, is one of them.
“We always felt that it was not appropriate for that site, but council looked upon hotels as big income generators,” Ely said.
Ely said his major concern is that the construction of the hotel could breed more waterfront development. So far, that hasn’t necessarily been the case, with one of Carr’s three planned hotels being scrapped. But there are still plans to construct a second hotel on the waterfront at Robinson Terminal North.
He also said the city is too willing to allow developers to get their way.
“The city needs development, but they’re too accommodating, particularly at the expense of the residents,” Ely said.
Ely said residents in the community haven’t warmed up to the idea of the hotel, but have accepted the circumstances.
“It’s a done deal. It’s there,” Ely said. “I wonder how well it’s going to do.”
Other residents, including former Councilman David Speck, are in favor of utilizing Alexandria’s waterfront.
“You cannot dismiss concerns, but I think that there are two perspectives,” Speck said. “There are some who feel that waterfront development can be destructive and there are some that think it’s attractive. I fall into that second category.”
Speck, who lives in a waterfront condominium in Old Town himself, said he enjoys the lifestyle that living on the water in Alexandria affords.
“I recognize there are consequences, but I like an active waterfront,” Speck said. “I like knowing that there might be a concert or a race literally in my backyard.”
It’s that atmosphere that Hotel Indigo is hoping to tap into, both by attracting local residents to frequent amenities like its restaurant and attracting business and leisure travelers from out of town to take part in a localized experience.
“Each hotel is only going to be successful if it embraces the community around it and can cater to that community,” Ellis said.