An Interview with Frank Keefe
Frank Keefe is developing the Hotel Commonwealth,
a 150-room European-style hotel scheduled to open in 2003, a project
that will change the look and feel of Kenmore Square.
Keefe's development firm, The Keefe Company,
is a partner in Great Bays Holdings, which is developing the hotel,
along with Terrence Guiney and Dennis Callaghan. Boston University
is also a limited partner in the project at 500 Commonwealth Ave.
Among the buildings that were torn down to
make way for the new hotel was The Rat, an infamous rock club
that hosted bands like U2 and the Police in their up- and-coming
days, something Keefe says he and his partners still get grief
on Kenmore Square: "I've always been intrigued by the area.
I worked with Boston University on trying to improve the quality
of the public realm in and around Kenmore Square, and just looking
at the buildings, I saw tremendous promise."
spoke recently with reporter Bill Archambeault about how the hotel
will change Kenmore Square.
Q How difficult is it developing a hotel in
Boston these days?
A It's a real challenge. There's certainly
market demand, and Boston is one of the great destination cities
in America, if not the world, but hotels are an intriguing kind
of real estate.
Unlike an apartment building where you sign
leases for 12 months, or an office building where you sign leases
for five years or 10 years, or a shopping center where you sign
leases for five years, 10 years, 15 years, with a hotel, every
day is a new day. The financial underpinnings basically entail
365 snapshots of the year, and that causes concern and anxiety
amongst lenders and developers and owners. So it's a very challenging
kind of real estate development.
As compensation, it's a tremendous amount of
fun. In a hotel, you basically design everything.
Q How do you see this hotel fitting into the
existing fabric of Kenmore Square?
A We started out trying to rehabilitate it
...and that just didn't work for an sorts of reasons, one principal
reason being the Americans with Disabilities Act. So we started
from scratch with a new building, but one which very, very much
relies upon the French second empire architectural tradition,
which again, is an over the Back Bay, and, in fact, is right next
door with the old Kenmore Hotel. But (the Commonwealth's architecture)
has an edge. It has new interpretations which I think people will
find very exciting.
Q In what ways do you think it will change
A It will totally redefine the square. It will
become the destination within the square. And again, we hope to
reach out and bring all of our surrounding neighborhoods into
the hotel as their place to stay and relax and to have weddings
and bar mitzvahs and proms and parties. We want to be a service
to them, and frankly, we virtually stand alone in our entire neighborhood.
It's going to be a grand facility. My two partners,
Dennis Callaghan and Terry Guiney, we've worked long and hard
to make this a truly unique addition to the city of Boston, but
most importantly, to the Kenmore-Fenway area.
Q How difficult was it to obtain financing?
A We did not have a difficult time. We actually
had three proposals to provide the debt on the project and we
went forward with one. Obviously, this was done before Sept. 11.
It would have been a very different picture after Sept. 11.
Our competitive position amongst hotels, we
think, is very strong. We have a fabulous market all around us
and we are virtually alone in serving that market, and we're in
the best position to service that market.
Q Is there any truth to the rumor that you're
bringing the Rat back?
(Laughs). The Rat is a great historical institution, but it was
getting a little seedy in the last few years. That was not an
architectural gem. We bought it, the place was a dump and we enjoyed
tearing that building down. Though I must admit, Dennis, my partner,
he travels all over the country and he gets a lot of animus from
folks when they hear he bought the Rat and tore it down. Many,
many great evenings, I guess, were spent there.