CPN Exclusive: Q&A with Jim Petrus, Trump International Hotels

Next Wednesday, the hotel within Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, which is still under construction on the Chicago River in the city’s downtown, will have its soft opening. In hospitality industry parlance, that means open for business, but before any elaborate grand opening ceremonies. The hotel will be the first operational part of the 92-story development on the former site of the Sun-Times building, with a total of 339 rooms, roughly half of which will be suites of various configurations, the other half studios.This morning CPN spoke with Jim Petrus, COO of Trump International Hotels L.L.C., in Chicago about the project. Petrus, who has been with Trump for about two years, is overseeing the rollout of the Chicago property early this year–and then will go on to open other Trump hotels in the coming years.CPN:  You’re undertaking a condo-hotel strategy here in Chicago. Will that work as well as it has in New York?Petrus: Yes. The brand is the Trump Hotel Collection, and the concept in New York is one of the leading hotels in the city–strong occupancies, strong ROI, internationally known. This concept is coming to Chicago, and we’ll also take it to Las Vegas and Hawaii and Fort Lauderdale and other places. Each of those markets will support the condo hotel concept, though in other markets we’re investigating the possibility of developing traditional hotels, because they would be appropriate for those markets.All of the units are condos, but if the owner isn’t using it as a pied-a-terre, he or she puts in it a rental program. Hotel guests aren’t likely to know that the suite is owned by a third party, and they don’t really need to know that. People who stay at the hotel are buying an experience, and who owns the space between the walls isn’t relevant to that.CPN:  The Chicago hotel has about twice as many rooms as the New York property. Can Chicago support that?Petrus:  About 70 percent of the condos, ranging in price from about $800,000 to $3.3 million, have been sold, so the market has been receptive to that part of the equation. As a hotel, we have a number of advantages, starting with our location, so close to Michigan Avenue and the Loop. The rooms have a residential touch–little things in some of the design elements, and in features such as small upscale kitchens in each unit, which we’ve found to be very desirable among our clientele. The rooms also have floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and the views are truly spectacular, either overlooking the lake or the city. We believe the property will be very appealing to our client base–the top tier of the traveling public, with annual incomes averaging about $500,000.CPN:  Is the overall climate for luxury hotels good in Chicago right now?Petrus:  It is. We respect our competition in Chicago, established names like Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Park Hyatt, but our job is to get travelers who are perhaps loyal to these other brands to give us one opportunity–one stay. Then we make their travel experience more enjoyable, with our location, and with our attention to detail in our service. That builds new loyalties, and I believe we’ll have as much success with that in Chicago as we’ve had in New York.