Revered Rhode Island Resort Rises Again

A new luxury resort is rising on a Rhode Island beachfront on the exact location of one of the East Coast’s most revered hotels. While the new property, Ocean House, has the same name and much of the building materials and details, it differs in many ways from the 136-year-old property that closed in 2003 and was razed a year later.

Today, General Manager Daniel Hostettler is overseeing the painstaking job of recreating and opening a hotel that combines history and nostalgia with the highest levels of luxury facilities, food and beverage and service. The property in Watch Hill, RI will have 49 guestrooms and 23 private residences when it opens next June.

“When I heard about this project I absolutely had to be part of it,” says Hostettler, who previously was at the helm of Lajitas-The Ultimate Hideout, a unique west Texas golf and residential resort along the Rio Grande River. “What a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revive one of the old grande dames of East Coast seaside properties.”

New York financier Charles Royce, who spends his summers in the area, is the driving force behind the restoration project. The new hotel will sit on the same footprint as the old at the same angle and with every window of the same size in the exact same place. “There isn’t a single detail you will be able to point to that doesn’t look like the building that was constructed in 1868,” says Hostettler. “Everything that could be saved from the old building has been, and many of the elements that couldn’t be used are being recreated.”

Hostettler lists a few examples:

• The resort’s old front desk is being reconditioned and will be placed back in the lobby.

• The fireplace in the original lobby was made of beach stones. Following the closing of the hotel, preservationists dismantled it stone by stone, numbered the pieces and are now rebuilding it just as it was.

• An antique elevator was removed and sent to Boston to be cut apart and glued inside a new elevator car.

While the owners and Hostettler have a eye firmly on the hotel’s past, they’re also creating a state-of-the-art luxury property with the bells and whistles needed to command rates around $450 a night in the summer season. Large guestrooms will be decorated with a casual seaside look and will feature custom furnishings and fabrics, flat panel TVs and luxury bathrooms. Each floor will have a butler that guests can call via remote control. The hotel will also have a 12,000-square-foot spa, fitness center, oceanview lap pool and a 1,000-foot private beach with amenities.

Complementing the hotel will be the residences, of which about half are already sold or under reservation. The studio and one- and two-bedroom units will be in a separate wing with beach access and ocean views. Owners can use their condos as full-time residences or have the option to place them in a rental program.

“We expect about 70 percent of the owners will put their units in the rental program,” says Hostettler. “We kept the suite count very low in the hotel—just five of 49 keys—with the expectation that the residences will serve as the suite component of the hotel.”

While the restoration is a difficult job, a tougher one for Hostettler will be expanding the market for the hotel from its traditional summers-only to three or even four seasons. To do so, the property will have about 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space that allows it to cater to social gatherings (e.g., weddings) and small corporate meetings.

“We’re only 90 minutes from Boston and two and a half hours from New York, so we’ll be a great alternative for small corporate groups who don’t want to travel far or be perceived as going to a grand place,” he says. “It will be a perfect venue for things like board meetings, corporate retreats or to do mergers and acquisitions. It’s a great place to hide out and put together a deal, yet still be close to the city.”

Hostettler and his team are also emphasizing a seasonal farm-to-table foodservice concept to lure visitors, particularly in shoulder and off seasons. Hostettler says it makes sense to embrace Rhode Island and New England’s rich agricultural and seafood resources as a focal point for the hotel’s f&b outlets. The hotel will hire a full-time food forager whose job is to roam the farm and fishing communities to strike up fresh supply relationships. The intelligence gathered from the fields and docks will inform the hotel’s menu choices, which will change daily or weekly.

“Beyond that, I thought it would be fun for guests to accompany the forager as he visits local farms to inspect crops or greets lobster boats returning to port,” he says. “We can develop packages around this concept which will help us stretch the seasonality of the resort.”

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