Wil Foster/Rock Candy Photo
West Elm Hotels will not be a part of the Bottleworks District, a $300 million redevelopment of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant and adjacent lots underway on Mass Ave. Instead, the hotel will be operated by an arm of Hendricks Commercial Properties, the Bottleworks developer, and remains on track for a summer 2020 opening, according to Hendricks CEO Rob Gerbitz.
There’s a good chance that no other city will get a West Elm Hotel, either, at least anytime soon. A lawsuit against its parent company, Williams-Sonoma Inc., appears to have halted or delayed West Elm’s expansion into the hotel business. Its hotel-management partner, New York–based DDK, brought the suit in January, alleging that Williams-Sonoma was cutting it out of the deal. Last month, a New York court ruled that the case can go forward.
“Our agreement was with DDK,” Gerbitz says. “We decided that to stay on course, we’ll take over.” Geronimo Hospitality Group, owned by Hendricks, is now the hotel operator. The Wisconsin-based company runs the Ironworks Hotel on 86th Street and three other properties in the Midwest.
The hotel is moving forward inside the historic 1931 Coca-Cola building, a white terra-cotta structure fronting Mass Ave that had served as the bottling plant’s main office. Ornate Art Deco features—terrazzo floors, decorative plaster, intact tile murals, a marble staircase—remain, and Hendricks is restoring these and other details. Part of the excitement over the hotel project came from the long-awaited reuse of the building, which was previously owned by IPS as a bus storage and repair facility. It’s well-known among the local design community as a property that deserves a new life. Indiana Landmarks calls it “perhaps the best example of Art Deco style architecture” in the state.
None of that changes, Gerbitz says.
While West Elm had announced plans for hotels in other American cities, the company had said Indianapolis would open first. That cachet lent early buzz to Bottleworks, which will also include office space, townhomes, apartments, and entertainment venues. Condé Nast Traveler said West Elm Hotels was going to “revolutionize the hotel industry.” The withdrawal also doesn’t shake the faith that downtown retail expert Catherine Esselman, a senior project manager for Develop Indy, has in the viability of Bottleworks or a hotel in that location. “It’s not a reflection on our markets or the need for a hotel to anchor that end of Mass Ave. It’s completely underserved. When you think about where downtown is pushing, it makes sense. Most of our 7,000 downtown hotel rooms are in the Mile Square,” she says.
Esselman isn’t panicking about the future of a hotel there. “Hendricks has developed their own hotels. I am confident in Hendricks’s ability to execute that,” she says.
Cunningham Restaurant Group CEO Mike Cunningham goes a step further. Indy-based CRG plans to open a concept at Bottleworks, West Elm or no. ““It doesn’t change anything at all for me,” he says. “West Elm is not a proven hotel operator anyway. I have no concerns.”
West Elm announced plans for the Indianapolis hotel in 2016. Bottleworks broke ground in the summer of 2018 and has signed on 14 tenants. High Alpha, an Indianapolis venture-capital tech firm, is building a new 40,000-square-foot office that will anchor the most visible location at Bottleworks, at its southern gateway. Pins Mechanical Company bowling alley and Living Room Theater are the primary entertainment options. A food hall called The Garage, located in the former IPS bus-maintenance areas, thus far includes several local vendors, including Daredevil Brewing Co., Square Cat Vinyl, La Chinita Poblana tacos, Brick & Mortar barber, Simply Divine Cupcakes, The Tartine Station, Lick Ice Cream, Poke Guru, Blu Point Oyster House & Bar, and Clancy’s hamburgers. Plat Collective real estate will also open an office there.
None of those are a nationally recognized brand like West Elm. The civic morale boost Indy received when the hotel chose it has the potential to fade. Esselman cautions against reading into the decision. “We shouldn’t take it personally,” she says. “Our market shouldn’t act as if we can’t support it. We absolutely can.”