BROOKLYN, NY—It isn’t a surprise hotels continue to pop up in Williamsburg, a thriving neighborhood known for its restaurants, rooftop bars and waterfront—which captures breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline from the borough’s rocky shoreline. Known for its flourishing arts and music scene, Williamsburg is also considered a hot spot for local hipster culture (think “millennial mindset” to the umpteenth degree). Having recognized a gap in the lodging market within this prospering neighborhood, the Pod brand of hotels began working to offer the community something new: its first modular hotel, opening this spring.
When Pod sources materials for a property, there are two requirements designers must adhere to: quality and durability. “We are selling you less space but not a budget or cheap space,” said famed NYC hotelier Richard Born—owner of BD Hotels, which is the owner/operator of Pod brand. “One of the ways that is reflected is in the use of high-quality hardware and materials. In a small room, things get banged more often, and then nicks and scrapes become more obvious and make the product feel cheap or uncared for.”
As far as design, the brand’s “aesthetic is a take on midcentury modern,” according to Born. Pod doesn’t want to just give off a cool vibe; the style must also be intelligent. “We are not looking to follow the latest trend,” he said. “We want design that is timeless and functional.” Garrison Architects collaborated with Pod Design Director Vanessa Guilford on design.
“One of the largest challenges has been the fact that the property is very much a horizontal structure,” said Charles Blaichman, founder of CB Developers. “The property is almost three-fourths of an acre, and much of the building is spread out on the entire site, rather than stacked on a small footprint with height.”
The modular component of the property itself presented the New York City-based development firm with additional challenges. Since the units were built and shipped from Europe, CB Developers constructed a steel frame for the process. “Our foundation encountered several unexpected, large-truck-size boulders throughout the property, which caused numerous redesigns of the excavation draws,” he said.
What makes Pod stand out among competitors at its price point is its concierges, said Born, who added they “serve more as city guides, assisting guests with sightseeing within the city’s grid.” Many of Pod’s guests have expressed interest in spending meaningful time in Brooklyn, Born said, noting he had extensive discussions with the concierges to create value for guests.
“And, if one looks at the demographics of Williamsburg, it closely mirrors that of our guests, so once we were looking for a Brooklyn location, Williamsburg was the obvious choice,” he said.
Pod Brooklyn’s guests will be “young at heart, even if they are not necessarily young,” said Born. The ideal guest isn’t a millennial as defined by age; it’s more about the guest’s mindset. “This means they value experiences over material goods,” Born noted. “That they understand good design and value quality, but are not willing to overpay for it.”
The hotel, which is located on the corner of Driggs and Metropolitan, will have 249 modular rooms, each about 100 sq. ft. Queen and bunk-bed configurations will be offered. Features include built-in storage and high-tech amenities. Oversized windows in the guestrooms will overlook an “abundance of green space and public spaces to create a social college campus feel,” according to Born. For guests not looking to return to the dorm room, blackout and noise-blocking shades are available.
Guests will be able to opt for a traditional front-desk experience or self-check-in through iPads in the glass-ceiling lobby. A wraparound staircase leads guests to a second-floor mezzanine designed as a lounge area.
Pod Brooklyn amenities will be somewhat similar to concierge services at the brand’s other properties. Complimentary WiFi and VOIP phone calls will be made available to hotel guests, as well as F&B programs that include rooftop and lounge spaces. “We will have an event space in Brooklyn, which we do not have at the other properties,” Born noted. “[This] will be great for groups.”
Additional highlights of the Brooklyn property are Salvation Taco, April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman’s first venture outside of Manhattan; private and public rooftops; and three courtyards, all connected by glass walkways with living walls spanning the length of the property. And instead of offering complimentary walking tours like they do at other Pod locations, Pod Brooklyn has been discussing the possibility of providing guests with free bike tours.
Pod still doesn’t have a guest loyalty program at this point. “We are having the conversation, but we do not have a timeline of rollout at this point,” Born acknowledged.
Currently, Pod has two locations in Manhattan: Pod 51, which launched in 2007, and Pod 39, which opened in June 2012. “In addition to Brooklyn, we will be opening Pod DC in the first few months of 2017, and Pod Times Square in the spring,” Born said. “We are in advanced talks with developers for Pod Philly and Pod L.A.”
Pod’s room count will jump to 1,900 after both Pod Brooklyn and Pod Times Square open—1,650 in New York City and 250 in Washington, DC.
Asked if Pod Brooklyn considers Airbnb to be a rival in the market, Born replied: “Airbnb is a direct competitor to every hotel. It is adding tens of thousands of rooms to the supply. In New York City, many Airbnb guests are looking for more space, rather than cheaper accommodations.”
Born also pointed out how Airbnb neglects to provide the “less-thought-about services—such as maintenance and security departments in case there is a problem, or a fire and life safety system in case there is an emergency.
“The Pod guest is OK foregoing space to save money while not sacrificing quality,” he explained. “For that, they get all the convenience provided by a hotel, housekeeping services to keep everything tidy, concierge advice, and a front desk for easy access instead of having to find a key hidden under a rock.” HB