HB ON THE SCENE: Hard Rock brings hotel to the Big Apple

NEW YORK—Hard Rock International is bringing the melody back to Manhattan with its newest venture, Hard Rock Hotel New York, slated to open in Spring 2019 in an area that was once known as the city’s Music Row. Additionally, Marco Roca, EVP of hotels for Hard Rock, exclusively told Hotel Business during a recent press event held here about plans to bring the music to gateway cities across the globe.

Hard Rock’s New York property will be a 445-room hotel, located on 48th St. in Times Square, developed in collaboration with New York-based Extell Development Company. The city street was once dubbed a “musical mecca” where legends including Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton would visit recording studios and repair shops and peruse through a bevy of retail outlets, including Sam Ash, which sells a variety of  sheet music, guitars, drums and even accordions.

Hamish Dodds, CEO of Hard Rock International, intends to create a “New York experience” with live music events, a “rooftop oasis” and a collection of museum-like music memorabilia hanging on the walls—a distinctly Hard Rock trait.

To satisfy hungry guests, plans are in the works for a specialty restaurant and even a modern-day, underground speakeasy. “With Hard Rock Hotel New York being an entirely new-build project, we are able to develop a hotel with customized amenities and programming that will deliver a one-of-a-kind music experience tailored for New York City,” said Dodds.

Though much of the new hotel is still in development, according to Roca, the speakeasy concept is especially under wraps. “Some speakeasies have secret entrances. We haven’t designed it to that level yet, but maybe there will be a secret entrance,” he hinted.

However, with a prime location in the heart of it all, secrets will be revealed in a matter of time. “The strategy was to be in Times Square. Frankly, it was a stroke of luck that made this happen because this is the street of music. I remember going there when I was 12 and I bought a little juice harp—Snoopy used to play one,” said Roca.

Times Square is the most popular of all the Hard Rock Cafe locations; it is the most successful by sales volume and has the greatest following, according to Roca. “People have been asking for this for a long time,” he said of bringing a hotel into the city. “We’ve been looking at a number of opportunities for getting into Times Square for many years.”

Hamish Dodds, president and CEO of Hard Rock International, was at the press announcement in New York City’s Time Square. In the background, Nasdaq’s video tower proclaims the planned opening of the company’s first hotel in the city.

Hard Rock hotels may spring up in other locations in the city that never sleeps. In fact, Roca explained that the company looked into the Meatpacking District as a possible location for its debut in New York—a glamorous and desired stretch of blocks—before deciding on Times Square.

“The Meatpacking District is a location we should look at again one day. But we have a whole world to look at outside of New York,” Roca said. He compared the announcement of the hotel in New York to running a marathon—looking into another hotel here now would be running a marathon back-to-back. Any further development in New York will be down the line.

Much is in the pipeline for the company in other locations. The newest projects include Abu Dhabi;  Atlanta; Berlin; Dubai; Itapema, Brazil; Los Cabos; Tenerife, Spain; and Shenzhen, Dalian and Haikou in China. All are consistent with Hard Rock’s overall strategy to grow in markets that are significant to the company, according to Roca. “Where other companies might look at the top 20 to 50 markets as key cities that you have to be in, we look at those, but we also look at cities that are musically infused—ones that have an underlying music pattern to them like Memphis, New Orleans, Nashville and Austin,” he said, foreshadowing projects to come. “While those might not be on anyone else’ s immediate target list, they’re certainly part of where we want to be,” he said.

Delving more into New Orleans as a future location, Roca divulged exclusively to Hotel Business, “We’ve been looking there for two years now. We’ve been close at times and then not,” he said. “But when you look at a Hard Rock location, it has to make sense. You can’t go just anywhere in the city. Do you want to be on Bourbon St.? I don’t think so because there is nothing that would give us the size unless it was something existing.”

Roca revealed that it would be difficult to find something that could be reenergized on Bourbon St. Though, if Hard Rock decides to move to the Big Easy, the property chosen would likely be near to the famous street known for its bars, Mardi-Gras beads, po-boy sandwiches and the party people that go along with it. “The people that stay at a Hard Rock are going to want to run up and down on Bourbon,” he said.

Illustrating the importance that Hard Rock’s cafes and hotels play on both the locals and tourists, Roca explained, “We look for areas that we can energize with our music, and we look to be the local gathering spot for the locals and tourists alike.”

Talking about gateway-city development, Roca noted, “We are looking at many: Mexico City, London. We would like to be in Boston, and Los Angeles is a must.”  He also suggested expansion plans in San Francisco, throughout Spain, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia, pointing out that Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and China are focus areas for the continent.

“I made a bold statement when I began here two years ago. I said we would have 100 executed hotels by 2020. I’m standing by that number,” Marco said. He joked that he may beat his 2020 projection, “but I’m not ready to disclose that yet.”

Hard Rock International, located in 69 countries, currently has 23 hotels, 11 casinos and 164 cafes under its belt. The company owns, operates, manages, licenses and franchises its ventures. Roca described Hard Rock as an intellectual-property company. “Our true strategy is not to be an asset owner—we are asset light. Many of the hotels are franchised today,” he noted.

Whether it’s a cafe or casino, music is the main ingredient. “People love the brand. What ties everyone together and brings people to this brand is music—from CEO to popes. Even babies like music, old people love music. It’s the ‘ambassador of humankind.’ It’s the one thing that unites us all in a good way,” Roca concluded. HB

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