One Developer Masterminds Albuquerque’s Two Boutique Hotels

When it opened in 2009, the Hotel Andaluz, in downtown Albuquerque, was the city’s first boutique hotel. (Photo: © 2009 Ramona Willis d’Viola/ilumus photography)

If he were still alive, Conrad Hilton would have no trouble recognizing the expansive lobby of the Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque. When the New Mexico native built the 10-story property in 1939, it was the city’s tallest building and Hilton’s fourth hotel project following three in neighboring Texas. More than 70 years later, the design and the feel both remain that of a Moorish Riad, or palace, exactly as Hilton envisioned back in the 1930s.

One of the original, restored murals is seen through an archway in the lobby of the Hotel Andaluz (Photo: © 2009 Ramona Willis d’Viola/ilumus photography)

Just off the lobby in what’s now the reception area, the original black-and-white tiles remain from the days when the room was the hotel’s barbershop. Two beautiful murals painted on the walls decades ago have been restored to their original grandeur. When it opened its doors in 2009, the Andaluz became Albuquerque’s first boutique hotel. Its $34-million renovation was, at the time, merely the latest in a series of such projects for hotelier Yancy Sturgeon.

“My niche is boutique hotels, so with 107 rooms the Andaluz was a natural,” he says. But with neighboring downtown big-box properties such as Hyatt and Doubletree he first had to convince himself and the owners that Albuquerque was ready to enter this niche market.

“It was a thought process, whether the market could sustain a boutique hotel. Albuquerque shouldn’t be known as the cheap place (to stay) in the state,” he adds, referring to upscale inns in towns like Santa Fe and Taos.

Once the Andaluz was up and running, Sturgeon—who describes himself as a “traveling GM”—in 2009 moved to Atlanta to manage the Glenn Hotel. Before long, however, he was back in Albuquerque for a very different type of challenge: turning a former hospital into an upscale, boutique hotel.

Up until 1950, the Hotel Parq Central—which opened in October 2010—served as a medical center for employees of the Santa Fe Railroad. In later years, it was a children’s psychiatric hospital before being vacated about six years ago. It’s located along Central Avenue, which was part of the historic Route 66 prior to the creation of Interstate 40.

From the outside, the building in the EDo (East of Downtown) district still bears the hallmarks of the hospital it once was. Since it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, the property’s façade looks nearly identical to how it did when it was filled with doctors, nurses and patients.

The National Park Service, which runs the historic registry program, required even the original windows be kept, forcing pricey acid washing. Their original hardware had to be restored and wood frames restored and repainted in the original color scheme.

“Everything inside’s brand new,” Sturgeon, the managing director, points out as he walks across the lobby’s earth tone tiles, made in New Mexico. “We took this all the way down to dirt.”

Quiet corridors now lead to spacious guestrooms with upscale amenities. And where a 12,000-gallon water tank once sat on the top floor providing a gravity feed to patients’ rooms there’s now a bright, modern lounge appropriately called The Apothecary. It offers vistas of Albuquerque from both indoors and out. Because the name could imply the bar was a pharmacy, Sturgeon had to get permission to use it from the state Board of Pharmacy before opening. The board agreed, with a stipulation.

“It’s posted that we can’t dispense drugs,” he says in total seriousness.

The property’s 74 guestrooms are spread through four buildings, with well-landscaped, park-like spaces between them. The only place still reminiscent of a medical facility is the Doctors’ Residence, which has been converted from a warren of tiny sleeping rooms into spacious suites following approval from the Park Service.

Managing Director Yancy Sturgeon stands in a courtyard outside the Hotel Parq Central’s greenhouse, which served as the ambulance entrance when the building was a hospital. (Photo: Jay Jones)

“The ultimate decisions came from Washington, DC,” Sturgeon says upon entering the building, where all the original woodwork—from the floors to the trim to the banisters—remains intact. Along a hallway, the doors to the former doctors’ sleeping quarters remain (thanks to a Park Service edict), although they’re no longer functional.

The residence also contains a living room for guests to use. It once was a lounge for on-call physicians. Intent on preserving the building’s history, Sturgeon installed a working, candlestick telephone on a counter in the comfortable, spacious room.

Located just a block-and-a-half from both the convention center and the Amtrak station, the Andaluz—Sturgeon’s first Albuquerque endeavor—definitely breaks the mold of its larger neighbors. The public spaces—mostly on the ground floor and the mezzanine—are filled with original paintings consistent with the property’s Latin flair. Most of them were created by New Mexican artists.

Dotted along the verandah-like walkways of the mezzanine along with cases containing museum-quality displays of local art are several unobtrusive computer kiosks that provide guests with information on everything from restaurants and shopping to museums and tourist attractions. The content is updated weekly.

The Andaluz also has the distinction of being a LEED gold property. The furniture is made of sustainable woods such as bamboo. Thermostats automatically switch on and off in guestrooms, depending on whether they’re occupied. And, solar panels on the roof are used to heat 60% of the water supply.

The Andaluz and Parq Central—located a little more than a half mile apart—are both part of Sturgeon’s strategy to boost room rates in Albuquerque, while offering potential guests fresh and unique options.

“We’re trying to help the downtown corridor…to make it more lucrative for everybody,” he explains. And while the Parq Central is currently the leader among room rates in the city, Sturgeon acknowledges that progress can be slow.

“Anytime you open a new project, it’s hard to gain acceptance,” he says. “It takes a couple of years.”

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