Q & A with architect Gene Kaufman

November 07, 2008 12:45PM

Architect Gene Kaufman has designed more than two dozen hotels for
prolific New York City developer Sam Chang and is now thinking smaller
in response to a cooling economy.

According to a report
released last month by commercial brokerage and research firm CB
Richard Ellis, 30 percent fewer hotel rooms will be built in the city
by 2010 than planned.

Kaufman’s 35-person, Soho-based firm has
designed 25 hotels for Chang’s McSam Hotel Group including three West
Side hotels in a single building on 39th Street,
and 15 others for clients such as Magna Hospitality Group, Gemini Real
Estate Advisors and the Lam Group. He also designs residential and
commercial buildings.

The Real Deal sat down with Kaufman in his office to discuss designing budget hotels and hotels with increasingly smaller rooms.

As an architect, how have you reacted to the downturn in the economy and the credit crunch on Wall Street?

We’ve
had to adjust our focus to projects which might be on a more modest
scale, where the level of risk for the investor and the total size and
financial cost for undertaking the project might be less.

Are you designing more budget hotels charging less than $200 per night?

I
think this is a new thing which is just starting to happen. If you look
at Europe and Asia, there has been, for a number of years now, the
budget hotel which is really thought of as a business person’s hotel.
The room is very, very small and maybe has an upscale kind of image but
the amount of space is extremely modest and the price is as well.

What is different about these budget hotels than what you have designed in the past?

The
quote unquote budget hotel is a somewhat different type than what we
have been working on. It is not necessarily a mainstream branded hotel.
I think some of the people who are interested in doing these are coming
from Europe and from Asia. And when they are local they are often
thinking of it as an independent hotel.

Approximately how many projects like that are you working on now?

We
are just starting with a couple, but I see a lot of opportunity in that
area. I would say less than five. [Kaufman did not give addresses for
the new projects, saying they were still being negotiated with
developers.]

What are the smallest hotel dimensions you are looking at in designing a hotel?

In
some of these budget hotels the room size can be even as small as
8-feet by 10-feet. That would be about the smallest. From here you are
going to see a continuation of this trend which has gone from
miniaturization at the high end through the middle market.

Are you designing smaller hotel rooms than you were six months ago?

In
some cases yes. I think what you are finding is that where we might
have done a slightly bigger room and a slightly higher price point for
a hotel we are now thinking that we might be at a slightly lower price
point and a slightly smaller room. 

With the downturn in the economy, why are some developers even willing to take the risk of building budget hotels?

I
don’t think you had in the last few years true budget hotels being
introduced in New York City. The hotels we opened and designed have
been mid-market hotels. I think one thing that is significant here is
that despite the current financial situation the average price of a
hotel room has gone up over the past few years.

Interview by Adam Pincus