Earlier this month, we told you a new extended-stay hotel concept called WaterWalk was coming to Louisville.
Since then, we’ve talked to David Lee, owner of Lee Hospitality LLC in Indianapolis, the local franchisee for the new project, and we can fill in some of the blanks.
We don’t yet know, though, where the new Louisville WaterWalk will be. Lee says they’re negotiating on a couple of parcels of land. They haven’t yet settled on an exact location but want to be in a community somewhere near downtown.
The East End, perhaps in the Hurstbourne corridor, also interests them, but downtown will definitely come first. And it will be a new build. The concept does not support buying and renovating an existing building.
The basic installation will be two four-story elevator buildings with 135 total living units in secure, landscaped, gated grounds.
“We want to break ground in late spring or early summer of 2015 for a mid-2016 opening,” he says.
Speaking of breaking ground, the WaterWalk concept is only a few months old. It was initiated in Wichita, Kansas, just this summer, and Louisville will be one of the first markets to add to the chain.
Why Louisville? For one thing, Lee is familiar with the market, having developed several Candlewood Suites and Suburban Extended Stay hotels in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
For another, he sees Louisville as aggressive and progressive, a bustling health-care center with a lot of entrepreneurial startups. “Any time you can find a progressive area, you want to be a part of that,” he says. “Progressive people are amenable to new concepts.”
The new concept is intended to bridge the gap between corporate apartment housing and extended-stay hotels like Candlewood Suites, Homewood Suites, Extended Stay America and Residence Inn.
Is there a gap? And why does it need bridging?
“Extended-stay customers come to town on a business assignment, or as part of a relocation or to care for a sick relative,” Lee says. “Unlike many business trips, these visits are often open-ended. And if the visit extends too long, they begin to want something with a more familiar, permanent, roomy and comfortable feel.”
The growing response has become corporate housing, the $4 billion-a-year business of leasing existing apartment space and subleasing it to local companies for their visiting guests or directly to individuals.
The problem with corporate housing, says Lee, is that it’s undependable — some properties are nicer than others and not always available when needed, or for the necessary amount of time. It also has limitations.
“Traditional apartment leases generally have a length-of-stay requirement: six months or a year or even more,” Lee explains. “At that point, that customer is in a state of flux. He doesn’t want to be in a hotel for another several months, but he also doesn’t want to commit to a lease.”
Enter WaterWalk, developed by Jack DeBoer, a pioneer in the extended-stay world as the founder of Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites and Candlewood Suites. Before that, Lee says, DeBoer was the second-largest apartment developer in the United States.
The basic components of the WaterWalk concept are:
● apartment living
The units are comfortable one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, larger than in extended-stay hotels.
“Most extended-stay facilities don’t have two bedrooms,” says Lee, “and none has three!”
The one-bedroom/one-baths are 525 square feet; two-bedroom/two-baths are 750 square feet; and three-bedroom/two-baths are 950 square feet.
Here’s a link to the floorplans, which also includes a video tour of the WaterWalk property.
● fully equipped
Lee says every unit has a washer and dryer, dishwasher, microwave, garbage disposal, ice maker, full kitchen … “all the things you’d normally find at home.”
● furnished apartments available
WaterWalk will offer both furnished and unfurnished options. The furnished apartment option (called Gold Service) also includes full housekeeping services, plus linens and towels, dishes, utensils, glassware, cookware, flatware, coffee maker, paper products and, in the bathroom, soaps, shampoos and conditioners.
The unfurnished option (called Silver Service) includes a fully equipped kitchen and laundry facilities and access to the WaterWalk health club, but not housekeeping or linens.
“WaterWalk was created to be more appealing to long-term customers,” says Lee. “In Wichita, they offered six- and 12-month leases for the Silver Service at the same price as month-to-month, and found most people took the full year. They chose security over flexibility.”
Also in Wichita, says Lee, the Gold Service stay has averaged 84 nights, whereas at Candlewood the average stay is 11-14 nights, and at Residence Inn three-four nights.
● competitive market rates
Lee says prices will vary from market to market, but will typically be close to local rental rates.
In Wichita, the brochure quotes unfurnished rooms at $999 a month for a one-bedroom, $1,149 for two bedrooms and $1,399 for three.
The furnished Gold package is quoted at $99 a night for one bedroom, $114 for two, $143 for three. That’s a rather pricey rent of upwards of $3,000 a month, though the rates drop for stays of more than a month.
● all-inclusive packages
The WalterWalk rate includes utilities, cable TV, Internet service and phone, which does make the rent more competitive. And there’s no security deposit, as there is in most apartment rentals and extended-stay agreements.
The brochure says, “Stay a day, a week, a month, a year or more — you decide. Move in or move out with minimal notice.”
Also, says Lee, the locations in each city are researched to be near centers of office buildings, restaurants, nightlife, health-care centers and recreation. So people unfamiliar with a city don’t have to hunt around or make blind choices about neighborhoods.
“We’re looking for the parts of city where employers and health care are and where people want to live,” he says. “In Louisville, we think that means in or near the downtown community, especially as the city continues to develop downtown as a locus of restaurants and nightlife, sports and entertainment, the walking bridge and all the parks around the river.”
Don’t assume, however, that WaterWalk will be on the river just because of its name. That name comes from the original Wichita property, built adjacent to a downtown development along the city’s Arkansas River (pronounced Ar-Kansas in Kansas) called WaterWalk, “so we picked up on the name.”
However, says, Lee, “we’d like to be near the river. If not, I guess we’ll make sure we have a fountain or some water feature to support the name.”