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Boutique Heights hotel gets city approval to move forward

A first-time developer got the green light from the city planning commission to move ahead with a proposed boutique hotel in the Heights. The 37-room Maison Robert will be at the corner of Ashland and West 20th Street where a home built in 1904 once stood.

Ben Ackerley, a native Houstonian, got the idea to open a boutique hotel after studying abroad in Europe as a college student. When he shared his plans with his father Bob Ackerley, co-founder and co-owner of Houston-based Smith & Associates LP, he was told to get to work and learn how a hotel runs.

So, Ackerley moved to New York right after college, starting off as a hotel greeter at the Hudson Hotel and eventually working up to an assistant front office manager position at the Mandarin Oriental. He then went to Switzerland to pursue an MBA in hotel and hospitality management. Eventually, Ackerley made his way back to Houston when his father told him he was ready to “get behind him” in his pursuit.

At first, Ackerley and his father thought the future hotel would be best suited at another destination, maybe Austin or Kansas City. It wasn’t until Ackerley was eating dinner one night in the Heights that the idea came to him — why not here?

“I was looking around, and the Heights is the coolest neighborhood on earth,” Ackerley said. “And there are no hotels here.”

An affiliate entity registered to Bob Ackerley bought the property at 347 W. 20th St. from Heights West 20th LLC in May 2018, according to Harris County Appraisal District records. David Marshall from Houston-based Dosch Marshall Real Estate represented the seller. In 2018, the property was valued at nearly $1.78 million.

Neighborhood outreach
In December, the original house was demolished, Swamplot reported. Ackerley hadn’t told his future neighbors of his plans. Some later told Ackerley they were surprised to wake up and see an empty lot where a centuries-old house once stood. To Ackerley, the condition of that house made it unsuitable to preserve.

“Ever since having the idea of a hotel, I wanted to build from the ground up,” Ackerley said.

He didn’t think the original building would be structurally sound and thought the best way to convey the vision and architectural influence he was going for would be to start from scratch.

“When building a boutique hotel, the aesthetic and design plays a huge influence for how it comes across,” he said.

As word spread, some Heights residents weren’t pleased. A few days before the Jan. 17 planning commission meeting, he held a meeting to share his plans and answer neighbor concerns, which covered everything from parking issues to drainage to sidewalks.

“A lot of the opposition was neighbors who came to me and said that originally, no one knew how to get a hold of us,” Ackerley said.

The lack of transparency with the neighborhood led to “some bad publicity” and started things off “with a touch of resentment” for some, Ackerley said. And looking back, he said he probably should’ve gone a different route. But, he also didn’t want to risk any delays to a process that had “already taken so long.”

At the Jan. 17 meeting, some neighbors spoke in support of the project saying that they wanted a hotel where guests could stay close to home. Others said concerns over parking and other issues had been discussed. Some didn’t want a business that would bring people to the area after business hours as a neighbor.

Ultimately, the planning commission approved a set of variances for the project to move forward. Maison Robert will have a pool, garden terrace, bar and retail area that will include the original flower shop across the street. Ackerley plans to buy that lot, move the flower shop into the hotel and use that space for hotel parking.

Standard rooms will be an average 450 to 500 square feet while presidential suites will likely range from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.

“It’ll be a casual service approach,” he said. “We’re not looking for a star rating. It’s not for business travelers. It’s for leisure travelers to relax.”

He anticipates the bar as a hangout spot for locals and visitors.

“It will be beautiful and make the Heights more of a destination than it already is,” he said.

Ackerley estimates a $15 million price tag for the project and plans to break ground within the next six to nine months. Construction will be financed through a mix of family investment, outside investors and lending. He predicts opening by Christmas 2021.

California-based architect Darwin McCredie designed the project and a contractor hasn’t yet been selected. Nightly rents will likely range from $300-$325 a night for a standard room.

Jan 18, 2019

Fauzeya Rahman
Houston Business Journal

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