July 29, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Aloft hotel heading to the Vista

Boutique hotel to open in early 2016

Columbia’s Vista is about to get its first boutique hotel.

Developers plan to build a five-story, 108-room Aloft hotel at the corner of Lady and Lincoln streets connected to the Washington Street parking garage.

The Aloft hotel will feature hip, high-end contemporary furnishings and interior design, ground-floor retail space and a bar called WXYZ.

Link to tour of Charleston's Aloft

“It’s contemporary and artsy and interesting,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., which encourages and guides investment in the Vista and other areas of the city. “It will a great contributor to the market. It will be like nothing else we have in Columbia.”

Co-owner Raj Champaneri said the location - a block from Gervais Street hotspots and two blocks from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center - was ripe for fresh property.

“A hotel like that is needed in the Vista. You can walk to the convention center and restaurants. Columbia was lacking a boutique hotel so that’s what we wanted to do,” said Champaneri, whose family is developing the Starwood brand hotel along with Marcus and Rita Munse of Columbia.

Aloft is a spinoff of the Starwood company’s trendy W hotels. The Champaneri’s Lexington Hospitality firm also owns the Homewood Suites hotel on Greystone Boulevard and the Comfort Suites in Lexington. Aloft has one location in South Carolina in North Charleston. It is building another Charleston location and a Greenville location, according to its website.

Aloft is the second new hotel announced for the Vista in recent months, and the seventh to be built in the old warehouse district, which has transformed over the past 15 years into Columbia’s leading arts-and-entertainment center.

Construction will begin next spring, and the hotel should open in 2016. Champaneri said the developers are recruiting an upscale restaurant or a dessert and coffee bar for the retail space. Other amenities will include an outdoor pool, a 24-hour fitness center and 800 square feet of flexible meeting space, for both business meetings and social gatherings.

Aloft will be located across the street from a six-story Hyatt Place hotel, which is presently under construction.

That hotel was met with opposition from the owners of the nearby Hilton and Hampton Inn properties, both five stories tall, because of its height. The opposing Hilton and Hampton ownership group, headed by Greenville developer Bo Aughtry and including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, claimed its hotels were prohibited from being over five stories, while the Hyatt was allowed to build higher. However, city administrators determined the Hyatt’s setback sixth story conformed to zoning laws.

Champaneri said his group chose to build only five stories because of the controversy. “We didn’t want to go through that rigmarole,” he said.

The four hotels - Hilton, Hampton Inn and now Hyatt and Aloft - all will be within steps of the convention center, which Delk said would help bookings.

“(Those hosting conventions) have always had trouble booking enough rooms,” he said. “Now we have three different operators, and we’ll have good competition. We’re going to need to start looking at expanding the convention center.”

Delk said more downtown hotels might be in the pipeline. “ I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we have additional announcements,” he said.

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