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November 13, 2008

How Four Seasons returned to Seattle

  • Investors worked with the hotel chain to land the perfect downtown site
  • By JOHN OPPENHEIMER
    Seattle Hotel Group

    Photo by Steve Sanacore/Four Seasons [enlarge]
    The hotel restaurant, Art Restaurant and Lounge, has a 25-seat counter and a 12-foot wine wall. Northwest touches include the black-and-white art photographs on the walls and a maitre d’ desk carved out a reclaimed 300-year-old redwood tree trunk.

    The sudden departure of Four Seasons from Seattle five years ago dealt a powerful blow to the city’s business community, tourism industry and civic identity. With its enviable stable of global companies, highly skilled workforce and proximity to the Pacific Rim, Seattle had certainly earned the right to the Four Seasons it had for more than 20 years.

    Thankfully, as the result of tremendous efforts by the community and numerous individuals and organizations, earlier this month we celebrated the opening of Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Seattle at 99 Union St. in the heart of downtown. The property boasts 147 hotel rooms and 36 private residences, a full-service spa and well-appointed fitness center, and the personalized service that is the hallmark of Four Seasons.

    A distinct departure from its previous address, Four Seasons returns in a waterfront location with sweeping Elliott Bay views from all 21 floors. And though its doors just opened this month, the innovative, modern building mingles with Seattle’s skyline as if it’s always been part of it.

    The perfect property

    The Seattle Hotel Group LLC launched the effort to bring Four Seasons back shortly after it left The Olympic. United by a common goal and ties to Seattle, SHG formed with three partners — Tom Alberg, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and me.

    A number of local investors, including the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and local businessman and entrepreneur Bruce McCaw, our lead investor, also joined the effort. And Four Seasons realized the importance of maintaining a presence in Seattle and asked us to partner with them to find a new home in the Emerald City.

    The first challenge: where to build. In 2003, Four Seasons effectively lost its management contract for the Olympic Hotel, now part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, leaving the only real option to build a property from the ground up.

    For the first several months after Four Seasons left, the development team looked at dozens of potential sites in the downtown area and was amazed to find that a dilapidated garage sat on the perfect property, across from the planned expansion of Seattle Art Museum and next door to Pike Place Market.

    Moreover, its perch at the Union Street cul-de-sac above Western Avenue ensured unobstructed views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains, as well as the city’s skyline. Through coordination with SAM, WaMu and the city, we acquired this one-of-a-kind site and began envisioning a new home for Four Seasons.

    To design the project, SHG and Four Seasons turned to NBBJ for the building and BraytonHughes Design Studio for the hotel’s interiors. Inside and out, the design teams set out to draw on elements native to the Pacific Northwest to create an atmosphere that reflects the local culture and natural beauty.

    Northwest touches

    Photo by Steve Sanacore/Four Seasons [enlarge]
    The 4,900-square-foot ballroom, which overlooks Elliott Bay, can seat up to 500.

    The results can be seen clearly in the outdoor infinity-edge pool overlooking the bay and in the local artwork that adorns the hotel’s common spaces, and more subtly in the lobby, which was designed with stone, marble and redwood to resemble a riverbed. My favorite Northwest touch is the restaurant’s maitre d’ desk carved out of a reclaimed 300-year-old redwood tree trunk.

    Bringing the outdoors inside was a theme for the design of both the hotel and the residences. For example, as guests walk through the property — from the lobby to the function areas and on to the spa and fitness center — they sense a trek “from the earth to the sky.”

    NBBJ took full advantage of the site’s location, incorporating the panoramic vistas into almost every element of the property, including the hotel rooms, the residences, Art Restaurant and Lounge and the 4,900-square-foot ballroom — even in the dramatic staircase leading from the “porte-cochere” car staging area at the hotel’s entrance on Union Plaza to the waterfront.

    In addition to its natural beauty, Seattle is known worldwide for its leading technology, and Four Seasons incorporates some convenient features that will appeal to both leisure and business travelers. LCD televisions embedded in bathroom mirrors let hotel guests check the news while brushing their teeth, and iPod and digital camera docking stations add a new dimension to in-room entertainment. The hotel’s average guest room size is 550 square feet, nearly twice the average in Seattle, and every room comes with a bed with a 6-foot leather headboard and Italian linens.

    Each Four Seasons property is distinct and reflective of the local aesthetic. When you stay at Four Seasons Hotel Seattle, you have the same service you do at any of their hotels but you also have the consummate Northwest experience.

    It’s also a home

    And with 36 private residences atop the hotel, the property places Seattle among a select group of international cities where a very few can call Four Seasons home. The Private Residences range in size from 1,300 to more than 7,500 square feet, combining spacious layouts with modern, elegant interiors. The available homes firmly raise the bar for urban living in Seattle, offering the comfort of an estate in the heart of the city.

    In addition, Four Seasons residents have around-the-clock access not only to all the services and amenities of hotel guests but also to residential concierge service. General Manager Ben Trodd and his leadership team interviewed some 3,000 applicants to fill the 235 hospitality positions.

    On behalf of SHG, I am thrilled to introduce to Seattle a new destination befitting of the Four Seasons name and cutting-edge approach to luxury. We are honored to be part of this milestone in the city’s history and to give locals and visitors alike a new place to celebrate some of life’s best moments in the Northwest.


    John Oppenheimer is a general partner in Seattle Hotel Group and president and CEO of Columbia Hospitality, a hospitality management and consulting company that provides hospitality services for its hotels, inns and resorts, conference centers and hospitality venues throughout the Pacific Northwest.


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