Originally slated for this winter, it’s now estimated to open in April 2020.
Photo: The new 96-room Comfort Inn & Suites on East Ohio Street is located on a strategic highway hub. By Lauren Stauffer
By Ashlee Green
The opening of a new Comfort Inn & Suites in Pittsburgh’s Northside has been pushed back until April 2020, according to John Graf, president and CEO of Priory Hospitality Group, the group that will operate the new hotel.
Strategically situated on an East Ohio Street highway hub where Interstate 279 meets both Route 28 and Route 65, Graf hopes that the 96-room building will be a “…lynchpin in trying to revitalize the East Deutschtown neighborhood…”
Graf also stated that there are plans for the hotel to serve as an employer for local residents and a collaborative space for surrounding neighborhood groups. Two small event spaces in the hotel that can hold approximately 50 people will be available, for example, at low or no cost for neighborhood meetings. These rooms will also feature both musical acts and dance club vibes and be used for events like wedding receptions.
While Choice Hotels, the corporate owner of the Comfort Inn brand, has “brand standards” that each of its hotels must adhere to, such as the same type of bed sheets and breakfast amenities, which Graf said Priory Hospitality Group has little control over, he does hope to employ a Northside-based catering operation.
Graf said that October Development, the developer of the Comfort Inn project, will start work on the building adjacent to the hotel next. Located on the corner of East Street and East Ohio Street, the former Workingmen’s Bank will be turned into a “cool, art-forward event space” with a rooftop bar. Graf estimates that this project will be a much faster one than the hotel and should take around nine months to complete.
Graf and his wife Suzanne own the 42-room historic Priory Hotel, which is just a few blocks away from the Comfort Inn, in Historic Deutschtown. They bought into the Graf family business in the early 2000s and over time, Graf said he learned and now knows the market. While the Priory is half the size of the forthcoming Comfort Inn, Graf says it’s a “unique experience” and “one that’s very much ingrained into the fabric of the history of Deutschtown.” He said there’s “more of an experiential aspect to it than there would be at a newly built, branded hotel.” But the philosophy of customer service at The Priory is something Graf said will be carried over to the Comfort Inn.
“…Our plan is to really make people feel super welcome there and also feel like they’re really being catered to, but it’s a product that is aimed at a lower price point,” said Graf of the new hotel. “The thing that I say, though, is that it doesn’t cost an extra dime in operational costs to go the extra mile and give a guest assistance or anticipate their needs and to do that kind of thing,” said Graf. He believes that the new hotel will create a positive economic effect in the Northside.
“You’re going to be bringing in—if the place is occupied—maybe another 200, 220 people a night into the neighborhood,” said Graf. “…so, we would see those folks kind of getting unleashed out into the neighborhood and we see some economic effect there.” Graf explained that since there will not be a coffee shop in the Comfort Inn, guests will likely make the trek to nearby Kaffeehaus Cafe on Chestnut Street for their morning dose of caffeine and to Penn Brewery on Vinial Street for food and beer.
“The good thing about a hotel is that—if you think about it from an economic—the standpoint of an economic driver, it’s an attraction that brings new money into an economic zone,” said Graf. “…The people that will be staying with us primarily are going to be from out of town, so you’re going to bring money in from Cleveland and from Washington D.C., from New York City, from wherever, spend it here, and it stays here.” Graf also referenced what he called a “ripple effect” that he said often happens in development projects like this one: When investment is made in a developing neighborhood, other investors start to “have confidence in the neighborhood.”
Some residents of East Deutschtown, however, have concerns about the hotel, specifically its signage. Back in October, October Development requested variances from the City of Pittsburgh to install three large, illuminated signs around the hotel. These signs, according to the Community Alliance of Spring Garden and East Deutschtown (CASGED) neighborhood group, are in violation of a local zoning code. The group’s comments were submitted to the Zoning Board. In response to the comments, the developer agreed that if the variance were granted, one of the signs would be turned off between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. A decision is expected to be made by the Zoning Board by the end of November.
“We’re really excited to get the place open, I can say that, and get it humming,” said Graf. “I think everybody’s going to be very pleased with it once it’s up and running. It’s going to be a nice asset, I think, for the community.”