Ace Hotels has had a significant impact on the hotel industry, helping change the way brands look to attract younger travelers. Here are five important moments in its evolution that we've covered as it prepares now to be acquired by Sortis Holdings.
The Ace Hotel Group, the boutique hotel chain considered to be a pioneer in the sector, announced Tuesday that it will be acquired by hospitality firm Sortis Holdings for $85 million, marking yet another chapter in the history of this small but influential player in hospitality.
Many hotel experts consider Ace to be the driving force behind millennial trends in hospitality, such as art displays and guest room amenities like guitars that have been replicated by brands seeking to appeal to younger travelers. So Skift is looking back at five key moments in its history through article’s we’ve written about the company, including its international expansion, the unexpected passing of its co-founder Alex Calderwood, the launch of new brands, and its lengthy legal battles.
Ace opened its first property in Seattle in 1999, on the site of a former maritime worker’s hotel. It didn’t expand internationally until September 2013, and its first hotel outside of the United States was part of the wave of companies looking to attract travelers eager to stay in areas other than London’s major touristy neighborhoods. Calderwood said the Ace Hotel London Shoreditch would embed itself in the local community, and indeed, the property featured a cafe run by a London-based coffee company as well as a flower shop owned by a local florist.
Calderwood was a firm believer in partnering with local designers long before it became common for hotel companies to do so.
“Where you stay says much about who you are,” Calderwood said. “Who wants to stay in a city hotel that isn’t connected or engaged with the local areas and communities?”
Calderwood, whom his colleagues described as a visionary in the hotel industry, was found dead in the Ace Hotel London Shoreditch in November 2013 from an apparent overdose. His father, Tom Calderwood, took over his estate and majority interest in the hotel chain.
Ace opened its 200-room Sister City hotel in New York City in the fall of 2018, a property that marked a departure from the other urban hotels in its portfolio. Despite being located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Ace Chief Brand Officer Kellly Sawdon described the hotel as a recharging station and a respite from the crowds of the city — instead of being an extension of its neighborhood. That’s in contrast to the bustle of New York life Ace promoted at its Midtown Manhattan property.
Ace made his its first foray into the luxury market in the spring of 2019 with the opening of the Maison de la Luz in New Orleans, another clear sign that company was diversifying its portfolio as well as a step in its evolution. Although Ace executives said the project was a one-off, they acknowledged they were considering opening luxury hotels in other destinations, a major shift in the company’s strategy since it wasn’t originally intended to be a luxury product.
Ace finalized the consolidation of its ownership in January 2020 after years of legal battles with the estate of Alex Calderwood. The company was then run by Brad Wilson, Kelly Sawdon and Stefanos Economou, who revealed plans to proceed with its expansion to Kyoto, Japan, Toronto and Sydney. Wilson added he saw potential for the company, which currently has 11 hotels in its portfolio, to expand in the luxury sector as well as an opportunity to open more Sister City properties.
Photo credit: The bar at the Ace hotel in Brooklyn. Sortis