Eamon O'Brien is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Omni Hotel Louisville, an exciting new addition to the city skyline. Anyone who has driven through the heart of downtown lately can’t help but notice that the hotel is flying up. The structure encompasses two square blocks from Second to Third, and just about Liberty to Muhammad Ali. Eamon O’Brien joins the Perspectives podcast sponsored by the local Louisville luxury real estate brokerage to discuss what we can expect from his huge undertaking when it’s finished.
They’ve just laid the 15th floor foundation, but there will be 30 stories in total, O’Brien says. Floors one through three will be the “podium level,” which will include what he calls an “urban lifestyle market” with food and beverage outlets. Floors four to 16 will include 612 guestrooms and suites. Floors 17 to 30 will house 225 one and two-bedroom luxury rental apartments. The rooftop will include an outdoor pool, hot tub, and café. Upon completion, the Omni Hotel will be the third-tallest building in the city – and the tallest hotel in Louisville. People who are living or staying at the hotel will be one block from Fourth Street Live and close to Pendennis Club.
Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, initiated the project after visiting Omni Nashville in the fall of 2013, and seeing what an impact it had on the surrounding community. The corporate team spent some time immersing themselves in Louisville to see what the city had to offer. “Every Omni hotel is different,” O’Brien explains. “We have 60 hotels throughout the United States, and every hotel needs to be unique and have that genuine and authentic color to match the destination.”
Laura McCoy designed the interior of Omni Louisville. Kentuckians will be very proud to know that, though the Omni chain calls Texas their home base, McCoy grew up locally -- in Paducah, Kentucky -- and brings a lot of local pride into the aesthetics. Every piece of furniture, fabric, or fixture comes from Louisville history – from the bourbon, copper, and amber tones and the horse farm paintings done by a local artist in the rooms, to the Louisville Slugger bat lamp and the custom bourbon barrel-shaped nightstands exclusive to Omni Louisville.
The art in itself – 75 percent of which is from the commonwealth of Kentucky -- is a great excuse to come down to Omni and check out the new hotel. O’Brien has been down to St. James and met with the local artists, art curators, fine glass blowers, and artisans. There will be an open call for anyone from students and novices, to professionals and retirees, to submit their paintings, sculptures, steel and copper works, bourbon crafts, etc. for consideration. So far, Local Language, Omni’s California art consultants, have been blown away by what they’ve seen coming out of the Louisville real estate market.
Omni’s art strategy is to do a broad stroke first to capture all price points, all artist levels, all types of art -- all the design statements and mood elements that the Waldrop and Nichols interior designers and the HKS exterior designers are looking for. Bourbon, copper, culture, water, cast iron, steel – these are all the broad stroke elements. “Getting our arms around Louisville, all of our great artists here -- that's step one,” O’Brien explains. Step Two is presenting a wide range of different art pieces to Waldrop and Nichols and to Omni to see what makes the final cut.
“We wanted to make the design timeless and authentic to Louisville,” O’Brien summarizes. “For a convention hotel, this is extremely unique,” he stresses.
Local Partners make the difference
“We’re passionate about our local partners,” O’Brien says. “We talked to multiple coffee shops, but the Heine Brothers really knocked it out of the park. They’re really great people. They named one of their coffees, Rhonda’s Blend, after a staff member who died tragically in a car accident, and donate 50 cents of every bag sold to the Center for Women and Families. They’re involved in trying to get clean water into Mexico. That’s the type of people they are. We like to tell these stories outside Louisville.”
Other plans for Omni Louisville in the works include the butcher for Bob’s Steak and Chophouse, some sort of breakfast sandwich kiosk, a barbecue joint, some type of “fish element” – whether it’s sushi or a fish market, two liquor retailers, a craft beer and wine store, a bourbon tasting room and bourbon seller, and a high-level homegoods store. There will be a few other surprises, O’Brien assures us, but the details aren’t quite worked out yet.
Omni’s exterior designer, HKS, was really blown away by the sense of community in Louisville’s history. “Back in Evan Williams' day, they would have their livelihood down on Whiskey Row. A lot of people were trying to make ends met for their family. They would have the bourbon barrels and their other goods out there for all to see, to draw in business. There was a real sense of buying, selling, trading, and community that dates back to the late 1700s-early 1800s. Our architect really wanted to bring that in with the floor to ceiling windows and natural light, juxtaposed by black brick to highlight the grit and hardworking blue-collar history. “It’s going to be a great next step for the community,” he adds.
The one exception to the open, street-level accessibility will be the speakeasy – accessible through a hidden back alley entrance and a very secretive entrance from the hotel. “The hope is that you’ll get into it behind a hidden piece of art, so it would be a canvas that would turn into a door type of a thing,” says O’Brien. The speakeasy will feature 60 seats, four bowling lanes, and craft “prohibition” cocktails. O’Brien hopes to get light fixtures from Joe Ley Antiques and the bowling pins designed by Louisville Slugger – who actually made bowling pins out of their Main Street factory in the 1890s.
“At Omni, we love to tell stories,” O’Brien says. “That’s what we want, as travelers, I feel. You want to go to a city and experience it like a local, so you can tell your family and friends about all that’s going on.”
Omni Attracts Professionals And Stay-cations
Louisville has a rich culture that lent itself to a unique aesthetic, but it also made sense from an economic standpoint. Right now, Metro Louisville offers about 20,000 hotel rooms in all price points, which gives the city a 70 percent occupancy – so there’s definitely room to grow. Louisville can compete on a similar scope as other cities where Omni has a presence – certainly Indianapolis, Nashville, Columbus, Cincinnati, Charlotte, and Pittsburgh. The billion dollars’ worth of development, including the brand new Kentucky International Convention Center due to open in 2018, definitely adds to the favorable business climate of the city. O’Brien says that Omni has been a popular brand – not just for business professionals visiting the local convention centers – but for locals in need of stay-cations and leisure travelers pouring in from neighboring towns and states as well. O’Brien and his colleague, Todd Roadarmel – who opened Omni Nashville, love to have a friendly rivalry about how the new Omni Louisville will steal all the business away.
According to O’Brien, today’s convention traveler needs a few different amenities: they need more natural light – the floor to ceiling windows; places to network; and more contiguous exhibit space, because that's where a lot of these associations really generate their revenue.” Omni, of course, offers all of that. Upstairs, there will be 70,000 square feet of meeting space to lure in groups and convention travelers. “The response from local event planners has been fantastic,” O’Brien adds.
The stay-cation crowd looks for amenities – like the urban lifestyle market. This portion of the hotel will include functional grocery stores, as well as six food and beverage outlets -- all accessible from the street and open to the public. There will be a flower shop on the corner of Third and Liberty; flatbread pizzas and 12-14 Kentucky craft beers at Iron Quarter; an inviting, open-air bar opening up to Liberty Street at The Hollow Square; and Heine Brothers, everybody’s favorite local coffee shop.
The southeast corner of the building will have an outdoor pool, a hot tub, daybeds, cabanas, fire pits, small event space, and a rooftop café / bar with a cantilevered ceiling for use in all types of weather. “The great thing about the pool is there is a great view of Christ Church across the street and it faces the sun, which will be consistent on the pool deck.” The full-service Mokara Spa has been one of the top 50 spas in the country for the last two years. There you can have your hair and nails done, or get a massage and rejuvenate. These aspects are thoughtful additions geared toward the stay-cation couple or out-of-town leisure travelers who are looking for a relaxing sanctuary.
The Big Day
The tentative opening date is set for April 7th, 2018. “The O'Brien in me is still pushing for St. Patrick's Day,” Eamon laughs, but he wouldn’t be able to announce that until a bit closer to the date. “The 248 men and women that are working on our site are doing a great job, so hopefully we will continue that, and Mother Nature will help us out along the way,” he adds.