Hotel Management: The Genesis of DreamCatcher Hotels: Hnedak Bobo Group creates a turnkey solution in Louisiana’s Seven Clans Hotel
By Eric Stoessel, Contributing Editor
National Report—When Conrad Granito was hired as the GM of Coushatta Casino Resort in August 2008, the property was well on its way to a massive $257-million expansion and renovation project. Less than two months later, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and the Great Recession was in full bore. The project in Kinder, La., still only on paper, couldn’t get financed and never got off the ground.
It had included plans for a 490-room luxury hotel, and the more than $200,000-per-key project was a significant one for Hnedak Bobo Group, a veteran architecture firm focusing on hospitality, and usually high-end, branded hotels. The project was officially done, but not Granito’s need for more rooms at the Native American gaming facility with 403 rooms at two existing hotels.
“I told Greg Hnedak we still needed rooms, as cost effective as possible, but with a higher level of finish,” said Granito about a meeting the two had in January 2009 at a Native American Finance Officers Association event in Las Vegas.
With other projects also stalled because of the downturn, Hnedak saw an opportunity to provide Granito with a solution, and one that could be expanded to other Native American casino resorts.
On July 11, 2012, the Seven Clans Hotel opened adjacent to the Coushatta Casino, with 401 luxury rooms affordably built for the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. DreamCatcher Hotels, a new company founded by Hnedak and Kirk Bobo, created the hotel from conception to completion.
A Dream is Born
“At DreamCatcher, we believe in delivering the highest perceived value to the hotel guest, while providing the lowest development cost per key to the owner,” said Hnedak, the managing partner. “And we believe in consistently challenging the norms of the industry. Those things drive every decision we make.”
The goal was to provide a turnkey solution, from architecture and construction to the selection, purchase and installation of all in-room products, furniture and fixture, with a guaranteed up-front price. His idea, based on decades of working in Memphis, Tenn., on brands like Holiday Inn and Homewood Suites, was to create the feel of a high-quality branded product without the requisite cost and requirements.
Mission accomplished, said Granito. The hotel has been open seven months and he’s received nothing but rave reviews from both his customers and bosses.
“All I had to do was put in the computers and people, and literally turn the key and we were open for business,” said Granito, who’s worked at Native American casinos the past 23 years.
The seven-story 401-room hotel was built for just under $100,000 per key and includes 18 suites, nine with private outdoor patios, and top-level rooms that offer floor-to-ceiling windows. The rooms aren’t much larger than at typical select-service brands—335 square feet in king rooms and 400 square feet in double queen rooms—but Hnedak said a four-star guest experience is delivered through key “moments of truth” and the five-star amenities.
“From the moment guests open the door we overpower them with a contemporary and beautiful room,” he said. Customized room lighting accentuates the attention to detail, from the rich grain of wood in the case goods to the sparkle of the shower’s tile inlay to luxury products such as custom bedding from Simmons, Panasonic flat-screen TVs, an overhead rain shower from Kohler, custom-designed case goods from Kimball Hospitality, the Temple Spa line of bath amenities and a Keurig coffee maker.
All those moments and products were and are still on display in extensive model rooms in the Memphis office that Granito saw before signing on for the project. “What we saw in those mockups got delivered to us, and then some,” he said. “The guests love those levels of finish that make DreamCatcher unique.”
Hnedak and Bobo’s decades of experience allowed them to understand the key touch points customers cared about most, while their relationships with those vendors allowed for key partnerships and preferred pricing to keep costs down. The mock rooms, Hnedak said, show approximately 80 percent of the hotel, but the specific finishes, fabrics and colors can be customized to a client’s location and taste. Lobbies are mostly custom-designed, with the Seven Clans Hotel featuring natural stone, warm woods and vibrant accent colors that offer a soothing escape from the connected casino.
By managing the entire process, DreamCatcher acts as the developer so the owner doesn’t have to. Strategic partners like Simmons and Kimball, controlling the square footage, limiting the building height and other construction methods all drive the ability to keep the price down.
It’s one-stop shopping, and DreamCatcher guarantees the price after the initial concept, so any issues that arise aren’t the owners’ problems to pay for. Per-key costs range from $100,000 to $120,000, depending on the amount of rooms, Hnedak said, 30 percent less than at comparable properties. Another project is under way in another part of the country, but it won’t be publicly announced until later this spring.
Although DreamCatcher looks and feels like a brand, it’s not. Hnedak said they considered a more typical licensing agreement, but “we don’t offer some things brands do, like a [reservation] system and training.”
That’s also why the concept was targeted for Native American casinos, where they likely have some demand, technology and systems already in place.
“Given today’s economy, project development financing is under greater scrutiny, with increased accountability for funds through the entire design and construction process,” said Rick Bokum, a SVP at Wells Fargo, the primary lender on this first project. “The approach DreamCatcher Hotels brought to the Seven Clans Hotel development is a good model for this market.”