So right off the bat, let’s address the “g” word: gentrification, because any new development in East Liberty is eyed warily by residents.
The much-anticipated Ace Hotel, headquartered in Portland, Ore., with locations in Seattle, Palm Springs, London, Los Angeles and New York City, has made great efforts to be “a place both by the neighborhood and for the neighborhood” in its location in the century-old YMCA building on S. Whitfield Street. Since Ace Hotels are only in a few cities, many view the company’s decision to move into Pittsburgh as an imprimatur of hipness.
From the wood furniture pieces by woodworkers Bones and All to the vinyl records in suite rooms curated by local DJs, to the minibar stocked with labels by Wigle Whiskey and Maggie’s Farm Rum, to the photos by Charles “Teenie” Harris that line the main stairwell, all appearances are that Ace is making a bona fide effort to be part of the authentic Pittsburgh.
Ace Hotel’s cultural engineer Aaron Clark, who’s lived here 14 years, says the hotel management is aware that gentrification is a real concern in a rapidly changing Pittsburgh. He also acknowledges that his official title is a little odd, but says it fits well, as he was part of the team tasked with bridging the connections between local artists and Ace Hotel.
Room rates at Ace will range from $189 for small rooms (they come in small/medium/large) to around $300 for suites. The rooms have the signature Ace Hotel quirky details, including some with record players and claw-foot tubs, and feel more like artists’ spaces in a rooming house than a hotel.
And while the hotel is officially open, it’s not completely done. The gym is still under construction, with an anticipated March opening date, and not all of the 63 guest rooms are finished.
But it’s clear that many of the building’s original details have been retained in the redesign with dazzling effect, including the marble staircase in the lobby, ceiling moldings in what are now the lobby and ballroom, and terrazzo floors.
Some of the new details are made with reclaimed materials from the old building, including the stained glass display over the main entrance which was made by local artist Glenn Greene.
And about that lobby. On one side is a bar that includes a coffee bar and a public space with wifi, and on the other is the Whitfield restaurant, a tavern-style meat-centric eatery, which had a healthy lunch crowd on a Monday afternoon.
The $23 million project was built using a combination of equity, debt and historic and new market tax credits and $75,000 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The developers were East End Development Partners and Bost Development.
Moss Architects and the Ace Hotel in-house design team, Atelier Ace, both worked on the design.
In the near term, Ace has a long list of events planned for its ballroom and other spaces, including an exhibit of Teenie Harris’ photos called East Liberty in Focus, which will be presented Saturday in conjunction with the Carnegie Museum of Art.
And Clark says Ace has reached out to community organizations such as East Liberty Presbyterian Church across the street to let them know the hotel’s spaces are available to them, for events large and small.
“We want this to be a place where people can come and feel like they are part of it,” Clark says.