After more than 20 years with Lam Group, COO Hung Luk is far from a lodging-industry neophyte, even if he is being touted for helping bring the first Virgin to New York City.
Observers largely credit his business relationship with Virgin Hotels’ CEO Raul Leal with giving the trendy brand entrée into the ultra-competitive Manhattan market, specifically within the burgeoning NoMad district, where lifestyle energy is running rife and Lam Group had prime property ready for a higher and better use.
The company six years ago picked up properties at 1225-27 Broadway where Lam Group is developing the 460-room Virgin Hotel between 29th and 30th Sts. The 38-story new-build will also include independent leased retail and restaurants, although Luk does not want any “gimmicky” F&B or fast-food chains that would be out of sync with the neighborhood.
“At first, we weren’t thinking of Virgin,” said Luk. “We were thinking of building two hotels, like a Starwood property, a Marriott property side-by-side. We needed to get a brand that believed in business, in people. But I didn’t want to get any brands that could affect us as far as in the union space because we are not union guys.”
The independent Virgin Hotel became a better fit. Lam Group currently is building the foundation, which Luk expects to be finished next spring. The hotel is slated to open in 2019. And as to being the owners of the city’s first Virgin Hotel, Lam Group apparently is going with the flow.
“What we want to do is create a vibe and let Virgin deliver the message. We want people to say, ‘Wow,’” said Luk, noting the project will follow the ethos of not only Virgin, but Lam Group.
Lam Group literally has been part of the fabric of New York for decades, led by Luk’s brother-in-law, Chairman/CEO John Lam, prominent as a garment contractor, in apparel manufacturing, investment and real estate development before also entering hospitality.
“We started looking at deals after the huge collapse in the early ’90s. Why did we jump into hotels? We were looking for something that was related to real estate and had a business model unto itself,” said Luk, recalling Lam Group’s journey. (Its first hotel was a Holiday Inn near Philadelphia Airport.)
From then till now, Luk, who graduated New York University’s business school, has had his mark on all Lam Group’s deals, including its commercial and residential development and those by 11-year-old company offshoot Lam Generation, an LLC founded and run by John Lam’s son, Jeffrey.
“I look at everything: the real estate, the deal side, the legal side, the finance side… I do all the heavy lifting,” said Luk. He also develops strategies for each property around marketing, budgeting, time management and working with assigned management companies to increase ROI.
Since its foray in Philly, the company has done about 30 hotels, opening several in New York last year and this, with a pipeline out to 2019 at press time.
For example, in 2015 Lam Generation partnered with Rinaldi Group on the 32-story, 176-room Marriott Financial District in Lower Manhattan. Later in the year, Lam Generation also opened the 18-story Aloft Financial District, adding 128 rooms to the area.
This year, Lam Group opened the 30-story, 261-key Four Points by Sheraton Financial District at 217 Pearl St.
Next year—and basically next door—the Courtyard and Residence Inn by Marriott Financial District will open at 215 Pearl St. The Lam Group project will have 200 Courtyard rooms on the lower floors and 120 Residence Inn rooms above. In addition, the Group expects to open the 200-room Aloft Midtown at 44 West 30 St. by year’s end 2017 following Lam Generation’s earlier opening of a 330-key Renaissance Hotel at 112 West 25 St. in the summer.
And doubling-down, Lam Group and Lam Generation are in tandem on a mixed-use project in Harlem that will incorporate a Renaissance Hotel as part of the redevelopment of the Victoria Theatre, which turns 100 in 2017. Located on 125 St., the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, the theater has been vacant since 1997, according to the Harlem Community Development Corp.
The project, set to open in 2019, is expected to preserve some of the building’s key architectural aspects, including its facade and lobby. A 26-story tower will house the hotel, residential units, retail and arts space.
In terms of projects and similar to his role, Luk said Lam Group does everything. “We are developers. We are owners. We are everything. We fell in love with the business,” he said.
Still, being “in love” doesn’t cloud his vision. “It has to be in the right neighborhood; we don’t want to be a total pioneer. We’re willing to go to an area that we see has potential or development happening. It doesn’t have to be hotel development… something going on,” said the COO.
Case in point: Lam Group was exploring Downtown Brooklyn in 2006, acquiring sites well before the ensuing residential/commercial boom, later debuting a dual-branded hotel—an Aloft and a Sheraton—on Duffield St. in 2010. Two years later, it opened a 128-room Hotel Indigo on the same street.
“We saw the landscape of Brooklyn changing on the retail and residential side. We said the [Brooklyn] Marriott was the one and only. We need to go in there and build in the general downtown area. It’s up and coming. It will happen,” said Luk.
“People used to tell me I was very smart to build hotels near the Barclays Center. I told them it was the opposite. I built my hotels and they came after me,” chuckled Luk. “I watched it come out of the ground from my hotel’s rooftop bar.” HB