Vinyl images of the city’s architecture were applied to walls in most of the guest rooms.(Kristen Norman/for the Chicago Tribune)
White subway tile, make-up mirrors and modern fixtures give the bathrooms in the new St. Clair Hotel a much different feel than when the hotel was a Red Roof Inn.(Kristen Norman/for the Chicago Tribune)
Art of Chicago can be found in every guest room in the St. Clair, the first hotel in Red Roof’s Red Collection portfolio. The soft brand aims to make each property a “hyper-local” experience.(Kristen Norman/for the Chicago Tribune)
The budget hotel chain Red Roof is going upscale — make that “upper midscale” — with a new line of lodging designed to be modern, sleek, hyper-local and steps away from the action.
Chicago’s Streeterville is the launch site for the first of these so-called Red Collection properties: the St. Clair Hotel, opening Oct. 1 at 162 E. Ontario St., a block from the Mag Mile.
The 15-story St. Clair used to be a Red Roof Inn. The latter shut down nearly two years ago to make way for the multimillion renovation that will roll out the Red Collection, a soft brand built on the notion that travelers want comfort and a convenient location but don’t want to blow their budget on a temporary bedroom.
“We asked our guests what they were looking for in a Red Collection hotel … and they said, ‘Most importantly, stay affordable,’” said Andrew Alexander, president of the Columbus, Ohio-based Red Roof Inns. “We’ve been able to do that by focusing on exactly what the customer needs and not providing too many additional amenities that just end up adding to the price.”
Room rates at the old Red Roof Inn ranged from $90 to the low $300s.
“We’re anticipating an average daily rate next year in the $145 range, which for Chicago is affordable,” Alexander said.
Keep in mind that hotel prices fluctuate wildly depending on demand, so that “affordable” rate of $145 can hover in the $400s when a major convention or big event is in town.
The St. Clair’s red-brick building at the corner of Ontario and its namesake street started in the 1920s as the Hotel Eastgate, where rooms went for $4.50 a night back in the day.
During its time as a Red Roof Inn, the hotel had 195 guest rooms. The recent renovation managed to squeeze out a few more, bumping the total to 208.
“It’s an older hotel, so the rooms are a little cozy,” said general manager Bruce Hutcheon during a recent tour of the property, where the overall aesthetic is fresh, not fancy. “People come here to experience Chicago, not hang out in their hotel room.”
The bathrooms were gutted and remodeled with modern fixtures, barn doors and white subway tile in the showers. (Only one room per floor has a bathtub.)
Neutral tones are offset with pops of red in the simple guest rooms, featuring pillow-top mattresses, 300-thread-count sheets, light-wood desks and coffeemakers stocked with Seattle’s Best.
To give a sense of place, black-and-white images of Chicago’s iconic buildings decorate an entire wall in most rooms.
Eight of the rooms are designated Elite Windy City King-Kings, each having two king-sized beds, a minifridge and a microwave. They’re priced about $40 above typical rates.
“This new room type takes the experience and elevates it,” Red Roof’s chief marketing officer Marina MacDonald said about the upgraded rooms that come with a white-noise machine and earplugs, because being in the thick of things isn’t always quiet. Additional perks include a snack box filled with a small tin of Garrett Popcorn and other local treats, as well as a souvenir Chicago picture frame — part of the “hyper-local” experience.
A huge grid of Chicago streets is the artsy backdrop for a pair of gray reception desks in the new lobby, where guests can congregate to watch TV or work at a communal table with plenty of power outlets.
Hutcheon, who worked at the property when it was a Red Roof Inn, said he expects the St. Clair will attract more business travelers than it did in its previous incarnation. But he thinks recreational tourists will continue to make up the bulk of the clientele, which is why more than half of the guest rooms have two beds.
The “upper midscale” hotel, as the company describes it, doesn’t have a fitness center.
“We didn’t have a lot of requests for that in the past,” Hutcheon said. “Besides, we’re right by the lakefront trail.”
The lobby will be connected to a yet-to-be-named restaurant that’s moving into the former Coco Pazzo Cafe space next door. The plan is for that to be up and running before the start of next year’s convention season in March.
Valet parking with in-and-out privileges costs $58 a day. Like all Red Roof properties, Wi-Fi is free and the hotel is pet-friendly, meaning no extra charge for four-legged friends under 40 pounds. Red Collection hotels — each of which will have its own unique name — are included in the Red Roof loyalty program.
The second property in the Red Collection portfolio will debut this fall in Springfield. It’s the State House Inn, a 125-room hotel near the Capitol that’s being revamped to bring it in line with its new brand.
As for which cities are next, MacDonald said the development team is exploring a lot of options — New York, Las Vegas and Atlanta, to name a few.
“But Chicago is our flagship,” she said. “Our research told us consumers want to be there.”