The Priory Hospitality Group purchases The Mansions on Fifth
October 9, 2016 12:00 AM
The Mansions on Fifth boutique hotel in Shadyside.
The library at The Mansions on Fifth boutique hotel in Shadyside.
The breakfast parlor at The Mansions on Fifth.
By Marylynne Pitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Priory Hospitality Group’s purchase of The Mansions on Fifth in Shadyside last week represents a major expansion of the North Side company’s real estate empire, and its first attempt to operate more than one boutique hotel.
John Graf, president and chief executive officer of the Priory Hospitality Group, said the company bought the 22-room property because it is similar to The Priory Hotel, a 42-room inn in a former Benedictine monastery. His company also owns Pittsburgh’s Grand Hall at The Priory, a former church turned into a reception ballroom that accommodates 350 people.
This purchase comes just a few months after Mr. Graf’s company acquired The Castle in Wilmerding, which he also plans to turn into a destination hotel with a restaurant and banquet facility.
The hospitality group, which operates Priory Fine Pastries at 528 East Ohio St., also develops commercial and residential real estate. The Priory Hotel offers its guests shuttle service to many Downtown and South Side restaurants.
Mr. Graf said The Mansions on Fifth deal was in “six figures” but could not reveal the price because of a confidentiality agreement with the sellers, Mary Del Brady and Richard Pearson, a local couple who oversaw restoration of both Shadyside mansions.
About 200 craftsmen restored The Mansions on Fifth in a project that cost $8 million and lasted eight years. Of the two Gilded Age residences, the largest is a 20,000-square-foot stone mansion that is one of four remaining houses on Fifth Avenue’s Millionaire’s Row. Built for Willis McCook, a lawyer for industrialist Henry Clay Frick, that home opened to guests in 2011. Next door, at 925 Amberson Ave., is an 8,000-square-foot, red-brick home McCook built for his daughter, Bessie, as a wedding present. That property opened in 2012.
“We’re thrilled to operate a hotel and event facility which is very similar to our award-winning Priory operation,” Mr. Graf said.
“We look at the Mansions as a blank canvas with which we, our clients and our overnight guests can create unique and memorable experiences. We’re grateful for the great job that Mary Del and Richard [Pearson] have done in reviving this incredible property, and we hope to honor their legacy by layering in some neat tweaks that will surprise and delight everyone that visits us,” he added.
Mr. Graf believes one way to grow business is to arrange packages for guests with tickets to Phipps Conservatory, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh’s Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning. He also plans to forge partnerships with neighborhood groups, as he has done on the North Side.
“Our 30-year experience on the North Side has proven that hotel guests respond favorably to a seamless visit that combines lodging, sightseeing, entertainment and dining,” he said.
Mark Popovich, senior managing director with HFF, a national company that sells and finances construction of commercial real estate, said the Priory Hospitality Group is more than doubling its investment here.
Boutique hotels are typically smaller, more intimate and have a cooler vibe than national chains, Mr. Popovich said.
“This is probably the fastest growing segment of the hospitality industry across the country. So what’s happening is that the major brands are trying to jump on this bandwagon.”
Marriott created The Moxy, The Autograph and the Marriott AC while Hilton offers The Curio and The Canopy. Starwood led the way with its W hotels. He said the major chains are trying to attract younger travelers who don’t want to stay in their fathers’ Marrriott.
“Their coffee bars look like Starbucks. They may have a nightclub and a cool restaurant. The rooms are really different. At the meeting rooms of The Moxy you can write on the walls.”
Social media, Mr. Popovich said, has made boutique hotels much more marketable because of apps including Hoteltonight, Jetsetter and Booking.com
Earlier this year, Mr. Graf closed on The Castle in Wilmerding, a project that will require more investors and sustained effort. At a sheriff’s sale in June, Mr. Graf’s company paid $100,000 for the five-story sandstone building. He plans to transform the National Historic Register landmark into The Castle Hotel and open it in June 2019.
Designed by architect Frederick Osterling and built in 1890, the Turtle Creek Valley building has an octagonal clock tower, 59 rooms, 55,000 square feet and occupies two acres. George Westinghouse, the businessman and inventor, built the castle to house his Westinghouse Air Brake Co. It included a pool, bowling alley, gymnasium and library for employees.
In addition, Mr. Graf is a one-third partner in October Development’s plans to restore the former Workingman’s Savings Bank & Trust Co. on the North Side. Built in 1902, the building was a halfway house called the Alcohol Recovery Center or ARC House. The architect was James T. Steen, according to a May 1902 article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. The building will become an event facility and have a brew pub on its roof. Its opening is slated for early 2018.
Marylynne Pitz: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1648 or on Twitter: @mpitzpg
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