Pasadena sees a flurry of hotel development, expansions and makeovers

Pasadena is seeing a flurry of new hotels and expansions and makeovers of existing ones

Visitors walking into the former Hotel Constance on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena are often surprised because the inside is so different from the 1920s Spanish-style exterior.

"There is an ah-ha moment, for sure," hotel executive Paul Jan Zdunek said. "Not everyone likes it. It may not fit what they had imagined" from observing the outside.

What guests encounter, he said, is "an amazing pop of techno Thai culture" in bold colors and fluid shapes.

That mix of staid historic Pasadena and modern Asian flair gives the hostelry now known as the Hotel Constance DusitD2 Pasadena its edge in a competitive local hotel market. An expansion of the Constance is set to begin shortly as demand for rooms in the area grows.

DusitD2 is the avant-garde, mid-price brand of Dusit International, a Thai hotel management company that operates luxury properties in several countries, including Thailand, China and United Arab Emirates. The Constance is Dusit's first inn in the United States.

Average occupancy in Pasadena hotels has risen substantially in the last five years to nearly 85%, which is "extremely high," according to hospitality analyst Bruce Baltin of PKF Consulting USA. The city is undersupplied with rooms, he said, and new hotels are coming to the central city.

A 144-room Residence Inn is expected to be completed by November on Fair Oaks Avenue north of Old Pasadena.

Other projects in the pipeline include a Hyatt Place to replace the former Macy's department store building in the Paseo Colorado shopping center on Colorado Boulevard and a Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants branch encompassing the former YWCA built in 1922 on North Marengo Avenue.

Last month the Westin Pasadena on North Los Robles Avenue sold for $142.5 million to a New York real estate investment trust that plans to spend an additional $15.5 million on renovation of the guest rooms and other improvements.

Hotels in Pasadena thrive on a base of business travelers during the week and substantial weekend trade from tourists, Baltin said. The city also has a convention center, substantially renovated in 2009, that creates hotel room demand.

"Pasadena is its own market, as well as a high-end destination for a lot of things that happen in the San Gabriel Valley," he said.

Owners of the Constance DusitD2 plan to break ground by May 1 on a $35-million expansion that will add 25 guest rooms and amenities such as a fitness center and swimming pool to the complex at Colorado and Mentor Avenue.

"It was always meant to be the full-service, four-star hotel that it will become," said Zdunek, who represents the investment group led by Hong Kong real estate company Singpoli Capital Corp. that owns the Constance DusitD2.

The hallmarks of DusitD2 hotels are cutting-edge design, high-tech connectivity and other modern touches intended to appeal to young travelers. Guests in Pasadena, for example, are able to connect their personal electronic devices to the televisions in their rooms so they can watch Netflix and other video streaming services from their own accounts.

Each room has its own iPad that guests can use to adjust the lighting, make housekeeping requests and dinner reservations or purchase items from the hotel.

Hong Kong interior designer Joey Ho created the playfully futuristic-looking guest rooms and a bright blue cocktail lounge.

The Dusit hotel brand is not well known in the United States.

"We had a slow beginning," Zdunek acknowledged. "Since January or February, we have been doing well."

The expansion calls for expanding west into a vacant lot behind historic building facades on Colorado that have been preserved. A four-level underground garage will be topped with new restaurants at street level. Meeting rooms will also be added.

The project should be complete by early summer 2016, Zdunek said.

Guests at the Constance are primarily ages 25 to 45, "people looking for something different from a normal hotel," he said. "It seems like an international crowd."

The seven-story Hotel Constance was built in 1926 by Constance V. Perry, a prominent local businesswoman. At the time, Pasadena was one of the country's top resort destinations for wealthy Easterners seeking to escape cold weather.

Perry sold the hotel four years later so she could devote her time to managing her extensive real estate holdings in the San Joaquin Valley, The Times reported in 1930. It served as a residence for seniors for many years before its 2014 makeover as a DusitD2 hotel.

Dusit is a well-established name in Asia, where hotel competition is steep, said industry analyst Alan Reay of Atlas Hospitality. In Pasadena, however, the brand is likely to be viewed more like an independent hotel because most people are unfamiliar with Dusit.

"It hurts you in the short term" to be a new brand, he said, "but once you get customers in the property, you can win them over."

Twitter: @rogervincent

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