Ace, a hip hotel, sets sights on East Liberty

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Trendy and quirky, Ace Hotel has targeted a select group of cities around the world -- London, Los Angeles, New York, Panama City, Palm Springs, Portland and Seattle.

And East Liberty.

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority board approved facade loans of up to $75,000 as a final piece of financing for the $23 million conversion of the former East Liberty YMCA into an Ace Hotel. Interior demolition and removing asbestos have begun in the five-story building at 120 S. Whitfield St. The closing is expected to take place in 30 days.

Ace hopes to open the 63-room hotel in spring of 2015, said Nate Cunningham, manager of ELDI Real Estate, which is part of the development team. The hotel will include a restaurant, ballroom and gym.

On its website, Portland, Ore.-based Ace describes itself as "a collection of individuals -- multiple and inclusive, held together by the affinity for the soulful." It is said to be the preferred hotel of search engine company Google, whose Pittsburgh headquarters in Bakery Square is just outside of East Liberty.

Ace just opened hotels in London and Panama and will be opening another in Los Angeles soon. Based on press materials, it likes to rehab old buildings in emerging locations and link its hotels to local culture.

Mr. Cunningham said Ace markets itself as a budget hotel but is outperforming the Ritz-Carlton in New York.

"They have a very unique positioning. They're probably the hottest new hotel in the United States and potentially even internationally. So we are very lucky to have them come here and be interested in Pittsburgh," he said.

At each hotel, Ace has a "cultural engineer" who is responsible for programming and filling the space, with the goal of attracting locals to intermingle with guests, Mr. Cunningham said. "Each Ace is very different because it is a reflection of the city that they're in. So if you go to Ace New York it's completely different than Ace Palm Springs."

Ace will be competing with another new hotel -- the Hotel Indigo -- in East Liberty, but Mr. Cunningham did not see that as an issue.

"There's a ton of demand in Pittsburgh. So any hotel you can open is probably going to do fairly well in this market. The hard part is getting them built," Mr. Cunningham said.

The loan will be part of $1 million in facade improvements, which will include new windows and masonry work. The project also is being financed with the help of $11.5 million in new markets tax credits.

Also Thursday, the board voted unanimously to sell nearly 13 acres of land at the 62nd Street Industrial Park in Lawrenceville for $70,000 an acre, or nearly $910,000, to Paragon Food Service.

Paragon plans to build a fresh produce distribution and processing plant at the site, perhaps in concert with greenhouses that would enable the company to grow fruits and vegetables,

The new plant will be roughly 80,000 square feet, about double the size of Paragon's existing Lawrenceville facility. With the expansion, the company hopes to increase its 105-person workforce by 20 percent over the next three years.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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