SLS Hotels puts its chicly designed, lavishly appointed lodgings in the U.S. cities most associated with luxury travel and youthful, free-spending abandon: Beverly Hills. South Beach. Las Vegas.
Philadelphia is now on that elite list.
After years of planning, work is set to begin in the fall on the 152-guest-room SLS Lux Philadelphia Hotel & Residences. It will rise 47 stories a few blocks south of City Hall and could open as soon as spring 2018.
The California-based hotel chain, part of hospitality mogul Sam Nazarian's SBE Entertainment Group, is betting on Philadelphia's budding sophistication as a shopping, dining, and sightseeing destination as it targets moneyed visitors seeking less-staid alternatives to the city's existing stock of high-end accommodations.
"The city just has a buzz around it," Arash Azarbarzin, president of SBE's hotel group, said before ticking off a list of Philadelphia's recent accolades, such as its recognition by the New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler as one of the nation's top U.S. travel destinations and the world's Number Two shopping city.
"This is definitely a new renaissance happening in Philadelphia," Azarbarzin said.
The city's clout among travelers is ginning up strong demand for high-end hotel stays. Occupancy rates at luxury-class hotels in the metro area rose from under 71 percent in 2013 to more than 73 percent last year, when they were the highest of any category, according to industry data from PKF Consulting.
Other hotels also are looking for a piece of that market, including the Four Seasons, which plans 222 guest rooms on the top 12 floors of the 59-story Comcast Innovation and Technology Center set to open in 2017.
The city's 299-room Ritz-Carlton, meanwhile, is in line for a $21.3 million renovation to be completed before the end of June 2016.
But SLS's smaller number of rooms and limited national footprint could give it an air of exclusivity attractive to some travelers, said Jack Ferguson, president and chief executive of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"One of the things that would appeal to a person that would be staying at the SLS is the attention to detail," Ferguson said. "SLS can hit that particular niche of the segment."
The hotel also will expand a now-limited selection amid the performance venues that make up the Avenue of the Arts, Ferguson said. The $220 million project, being built with local developer Carl Dranoff, includes 90 condominium units, as well.
Azarbarzin said the SLS Lux Philadelphia will price itself just below highest-end hotels such as the Four Seasons. It will tailor its offerings to what he described as a clique of cosmopolitan travelers who get the brand's sensibility.
"We don't want to be everything to everybody," he said. "But we want to be a lot to that tribe that would appreciate what we have."
The SLS Lux Philadelphia's sleek glass and metal tower is designed by architect Kohn Pedersen Fox, which completed the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, Tokyo's Roppongi Hills, and the Shanghai World Financial Center.
The hotel's interior will be decorated by Philippe Starck, known for his moody lighting, saturated hues, and imaginatively constructed chairs.
The building will have a landscaped sundeck five stories above street level and may feature SBE Entertainment Group's modish restaurant brands, such as Katsuya and the Bazaar, which also feature Starck-designed interiors.
Andrew Benioff, a hotel specialist at Philadelphia's Llenrock Group real estate finance and advisory firm, said that, once built, the SLS would be among the city's most exciting hotels.
Other "boutique" hotel projects are being planned in the city, as well.
The local development group Chancellor Hotels is negotiating with the owners of the Hudson Hotel brand to build a second branch of the trendy New York City property here, said Vince Powers, a Chancellor spokesman. The hotel would be built at the site of the multistory parking lot that now has Little Pete's restaurant as a ground-floor tenant.
Fishtown-based Domani Developers, meanwhile, has plans to build a hotel in that neighborhood, to be designed by Morris Adjmi, architect of the industrial-chic Wythe Hotel in the Brooklyn hipster enclave of Williamsburg.
"Our city is developing and changing into a city that has more expensive and sophisticated tastes and, quite frankly, our hotel offerings are rather drab and boring until now," Benioff said. "Getting something interesting like a proposed Hudson or an SLS, I think, is wonderful. I think there's room for even nicer stuff."