Founded in 1926, McKibbon Hospitality, which owns, develops, manages, and renovates hotels, has evolved over the years to accommodate its guests, clients, and team members, and otherwise keep up with the times. Among these changes is the July 2019 launch of McKibbon Places, a division of the company dedicated to third-party strategic development and renovation. Erik Rowen, who oversaw development for McKibbon Hospitality for most of his 16 years there and is now president of McKibbon Places, described to LODGING the hows, whys, and wheres behind the move, including why the division established its new high-tech headquarters in a 110-year-old warehouse in the historic Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Ga.
Why did McKibbon launch McKibbon Places?
Although our company had been developing and renovating hotels for more than 70 years, we hadn’t sought out third-party development opportunities prior to last year. However, we recognized that many of the hotel development groups out there didn’t have the in-house resources to develop the projects and manage them on their own; and there were also groups of seasoned developers that didn’t have hotel experience they needed. Given that we’ve done so many different select-service and lifestyle hotels, built so many relationships with other developers, and had so many processes in place, we created McKibbons Places to strategically market our third-party services to help new owners and developers realize their vision.
Is there a specific segment, type of property, or geographic area that you’re focusing on?
While we’d never turn something away without looking at it, we’ve been focused mostly in the Southeast United States since we’ve begun, and that’s really where we’ve developed the most strategic partnerships including with architects, contractors, and vendors. Our hotel renovation work has spanned most of the bigger select-service brands and franchisors; and our new-build work has been mostly with Hilton and Marriott, including what was formerly Starwood.
How will McKibbon Places’ new headquarters position the company for growth?
The decision to relocate the development group from Gainesville, Ga., closer to Atlanta was based on a desire to create a modern facility to better service our clients, partners, and team members, many of whom already lived in Fulton County. We also wanted to be in a really vibrant, growing community. Therefore, we located our headquarters in a 110-year-old warehouse building right in the middle of historic downtown Alpharetta, which is very walkable and has lots of shops and restaurants.
Because we had decided to make this our new headquarters—rather than just a corporate office—we wanted to make sure that we designed it around what we do and try to get the most out of technology, making it user-friendly for our project management team to stay in very close contact with our projects when we weren’t on site. The collaborative space includes a wall of monitors displaying live feeds of current projects under construction. Additionally, project director offices come equipped with large monitors allowing them to conduct live video site tours with project superintendents. The office’s virtual reality room houses state-of-the-art equipment enabling team members or owners to virtually tour project designs in 3D.
How big is the team right now and do you anticipate growing in the next year?
Right now, we’ve got about a dozen team members, but not all are in the Alpharetta office, a 4,000-square-foot building that includes nine office spaces, two conference rooms, multiple collaborative spaces, and a virtual reality room. We do plan to grow over the next year or two and have already hired a couple of new team members, one for our Kimpton Hotel in Downtown Asheville, which everybody on our team is really proud of. We have seven or eight new builds underway right now in development and also about six renovation projects underway.
What does McKibbon Places bring to the table for owners and developers?
For one, we’ve got a tremendous amount of experience in the development arena and working with brands. We’ve developed over 60 hotels in recent years at McKibbon, so we’ve gotten to experience a lot of different hotels and different brands in different jurisdictions.
One of the things that really makes us a strong hotel developer is the relationships we’ve created over the years with contractors, vendors, local jurisdictions, and franchisors. This is a challenging business and relationships are everything. You want to enjoy what you’re doing and it’s a lot easier to enjoy things when you’re working with great people.
“This is a challenging business and relationships are everything. You want to enjoy what you’re doing and it’s a lot easier to enjoy things when you’re working with great people.”
Another big differentiator is that our team comes from all different areas within our industry, which gives us a really broad perspective when we’re developing. I myself am a licensed architect, several of our staff have a background in construction, one of our project managers had procurement experience, and another team member comes from the hotel operations side.
Finally, I would stress that the three different perspectives that have always driven McKibbon have been those of hotel developers, owners, and operators—all of which are key in developing successful projects that encompass the guest experience, the operational efficiencies, and, of course, the longevity of the asset from an investor’s perspective.