Priory Hotel unveils $2.7 million expansion


Priory Hotel owners Suzanne and John Graf and General Manager Tim McGlothlin take pride in the details that make the Priory unique. Below: The new, "classic" rooms at the Priory feature king beds, custom-made furniture and artwork from Shaw Galleries Downtown. (Photos/Kelly Thomas)

The Priory Hotel, now more than ever, is not your average hotel.

The boutique hotel introduced for the New Year a 17-room expansion to its original 25-room historic building. The $2.7 million expansion matches the style and décor of the original building, a monastery built in 1888.

Walking between the two parts of the hotel, you’d never know which part was built more than 100 years ago and which part only a few days ago. Vice President of Priory Hospitality Group John Graf said they had the doors and woodwork for the expansion specially fabricated to exactly match those of the original building.

The expansion, in addition to the new rooms and a few upgrades to existing rooms, includes an elevator, a new fitness center, meeting room, business center, two fully accessible handicap rooms and a new entrance that will allow people with disabilities to come and go freely, without help from hotel staff.

The front desk has also expanded and the Monks’ Bar, a sitting room and European-style hotel bar that will feature food, will open soon.

Financing for the project was provided by First National Bank, the Northside Community Development Fund and the Graf family. Bridges & Company provided general contracting services, Denny Campbell Architects provided architectural services and Richard Lawrence Design provided interior design services.

What makes the Priory special, though, are the careful details hand-selected by Graf himself for each room.

The works of art that adorn the walls are a combination of original paintings, beautifully matted and framed prints of antique line drawings and maps. A majority of the art came from the Shaw Galleries Downtown, Graf said, and some pieces came from the Graf family’s collection.

The new rooms, officially called the “classic” rooms because of their larger vanities, smooth lines, rich colors and timeless furniture, are distinct from the “historic” rooms of the original monastery building, but come together seamlessly.

The specially-ordered chairs in the classic rooms, for example, match the upholstery of some of the genuine antique chairs in one of the historic rooms.

The beds are another special touch.

“It’s very rare that you go into a hotel and see a whole bed,” Graf said. “The headboards are usually bolted to the wall.”

Of course, free internet along with the brand-new widescreen LCD televisions in every room is nice, too.

The expansion came about because of a devastating fire that burned the apartment building next to the historic hotel to the ground in January 2009. The Priory suffered extensive smoke damage, and Graf said only last fall did they finally get rid of the lingering smell.

The apartment building owners decided not to rebuild, and the Grafs decided to purchase the property and expand their hotel.

The foundation for the expansion was laid in April 2010, and Graf said they had to “jump through a lot of hoops” to get everything up and running in time for a New Years wedding party that had booked the hotel.

A few things are left to be done. The bottom floor with the new fitness center and meeting room has yet to be completed, and one custom-ordered historic replica door has yet to make appearance. It has been temporarily replaced with a plain one.

Once completed, the Priory Hotel could easily become a destination in and of itself, rather than simply another place to stay.

“We were successful in what we were doing, but we felt we could improve our product,” Graf said.

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