STYLE, SERVICE MEET AT ALDEN

Don't call the Alden Hotel in Houston a boutique hotel. Tim Miller's first venture into the luxury market is more than that. “I don't exactly know what a boutique hotel is anymore,” says Miller, who was in on the creation of the boutique concept. “I know what it was when I started out. I look forward to getting away from that term when Alden Hotels are discussed.”

For now, the only property for Miller to discuss is the Alden, a reflag of the former Sam Houston. The downtown hotel reopened in 2002 after being closed for more than 20 years, and in 2004, its owners approached Miller in search of someone who could make it even more contemporary. Their timing was perfect, Miller suggests.

At the time, Miller was senior vice president of brand management for Ian Schrager Hotels. “I was absolutely not itching to leave,” says Miller. “I had a tremendous affection for that brand, and a tremendous amount of loyalty.”

Hired by Schrager and former Schrager partner Steve Rubell, Miller worked his way up from bellman to his final position, where opening hotels was a key duty. He was with the company as it grew from two properties to 12, and he was more than comfortable. Yet, he was ready for something new.

“You have your own point of view,” Miller says. “For Ian's company, I was executing Ian's vision. I was his guy who made sure that what he wanted was there.”

When the Sam Houston owners approached him, “I thought I was either going to make a move or become a lifer,” he says. What appealed to him was the possibility of putting his own stamp on a property and creating a fresh business model.

At the Alden, Miller attempted to create an environment that “was all about contemporary, modern sophistication, but without the pretense or stuffiness that sometimes luxury implies. We took a modern, very handsome design concept — without a lot of what I would call bells and whistles — and decided that what was important was the basics: service, service and service.”

The hotel comprises 97 rooms including nine suites. There are about 140 full-time employees. That it's also high-tech speaks to another part of Miller's personality.

“I am a technology geek myself — I love my flat-screen TV, can't live without my BlackBerry, and I have the highest-speed Internet access in my house — and I think I'm not unlike the majority of this country who understand and appreciate innovation in the technology,” he says. In addition, he thinks people are strongly influenced by design.

“I think we have a collective consciousness and culture whereby design has taken on meaning,” he says. “When people check into a hotel, they expect good design, but I think the overriding part of a great hotel experience is service.”

The Alden name speaks to that notion. When he and his “private family” of investors came up with the name, he discovered an emotional connection to it. Subsequent research told him that “Alden” comes from an old English word that means old friend.

“We're an easy-living hotel,” Miller says. “Staying at Alden, which is modern-day, sophisticated and luxurious, is easy. It's easy to check in, easy to get your messages, easy to get your drink in a bar. I think our industry has been geared toward making things fantastical, with a lot of bells and whistles.

“Our mission is to give our guests a place that is service, style and substance,” he says. “Those things cannot live independently. Where service and style meet, that's substance.”

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