The last time Montclair had a full-service hotel, in 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, Superman debuted in the comic books, and the Henry Fonda/Bette Davis movie Jezebel was in the theaters. On June 9, Montclair developer Pinnacle CEO Brian Stolar, flanked by an architect, designers, and an engineer, formally filed his application before the Montclair Planning Board for a new eight-story hotel at Bloomfield Avenue and Orange Road to complement the Valley & Bloom (formerly CentroVerde) development currently under construction. The MC Hotel, as it is to be called, is to be one of the Marriott Corporation’s Autograph Collection Hotels, a brand of boutique hotels tailored to the uniqueness of their environs rather than based on a cookie-cutter design. Stolar and his associates extensively went over preliminary plans for the hotel, and Board Chairman John Wynn cross-examined them with critical questions.
At the start of the meeting, Oral Muir, vice president of Global Branding at Autograph Collection Hotels, said he loved how Montclair allowed independent spirit and entrepreneurship to thrive, which he said fit Autograph Collection’s goal of working with small businesses and being part of the community. “I really love the vibe, values and culture of Montclair,” he said, ” and the fact that this town lets people be special and follow their own path. That’s what Autograph Collection’s all about; our motto is that we champion independence.”
[More about Autograph Collection which “consists of 57 hotels from New Mexico to Normandy, with another 20 potential partnerships pending in 2014” from Skift. Other Autograph Hotels include NYC’s Algonquin Times Square and Boscolo Palace Roma in Italy.]
Peter Levine of Dash Design, a New York interior design firm, struck a similar note in explaining how his firm planned to execute this project. He envisioned a design that would create “a social gathering spot where something is always happening, from the rooftop lounge with signature cocktails to local artists and design work on display.” The result, Levine said, would be “an original, fanciful curated experience meant to stimulate and delight” with top-quality service.
Architect Michael Maturo of DYAMI Architecture spent the balance of the meeting explaining the design of the MC Hotel, which keeps the proposed two-story public atrium with 30-foot-high glass walls and includes a communal room for the rooftop bar. The exterior uses a mix of stucco, a stone base, and bricks of different shades of red to break up the bulk, with terraces between the third and sixth floors along the Bloomfield Avenue facade and on the third and fourth floors along the Orange Road facade, as well as a seventh-floor setback along Bloomfield Avenue and a fifth-floor setback along Orange Road (both at five feet) to provide balconies and let in a natural flow of light. The main entrance would be at the first floor in a porte-cochere entryway, where valets would be on duty to park cars in the Orange Road parking deck. Michael Szura, a landscape architect for Langan International, showed how the proposed plaza at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Orange Road would feature a planting wall separating the corner from the traffic, with ornamental pedestrian lighting along the building and a soft glow from inside the atrium to provide additional outdoor lighting. But Szura’s most daring design element was the use of “green walls,” walls on either end of the building ornamented with plants to provide a vertical bed of greenery.
Wynn was pleased overall with the design but found fault with the particulars. A mechanical room on the roof at the building’s edge, which would face down on Ferrara’s Auto Body, along with the rooftop communal room, led Wynn to see the MC Hotel as a nine-story building rather than as an eight-story building with a rooftop bar. Maturo said that reconfiguring the mechanical room would be difficult, with a good deal of the basement space eliminated by contaminated soil from the gasoline station that once stood on the property, and that moving it elsewhere on the roof would comprise the views. Both Wynn and Planning Director Janice Talley asked if Maturo could find a way to reconfigure it so as not to created a de facto ninth story, and Talley noted that an ordinance requires setbacks for rooftop equipment rooms. Maturo said it could be reconfigured.
Wynn also questioned the logic of the setbacks in Maturo’s design, asking if it was possible to redo the setbacks and sacrifice half the rooms on two separate floors facing Orange Road. Maturo responded that it would render the design with fewer than the 148 rooms desired. Wynn suggested having fewer rooms and making the rooms wider to accommodate larger setbacks.
“I’m getting the sense that there’s some options,” Wynn said. “The impact upon the hotel operation and the number of rooms, I don’t know what that is. But I don’t get the sense, really, that it’s absolute [that] you lose all these rooms.” Wynn suggested that a redesign may only cause a loss of five to eight rooms rather than a larger number.
Stolar later said that he was certain that at least 26 rooms would be lost per the changes Wynn was suggesting, adding that Marriott had said no to anything with less than 142 rooms. Stolar also explained that Marriott demands a design where the rooms all face the same direction, and that what Wynn was proposing would not allow such a configuration and get all the rooms required by Marriott standards.
Wynn also wondered if vegetation in the green wall could possibly be well-kept year-round, given the harsh winters New Jersey has recently experienced. Szura said that coniferous plantings would be included to keep them fresh in winter. Pachysandra have also been suggested.
Resident David Kiebler worried about the overflow of parking and the need to evacuate the hotel in the event of an emergency. Stolar replied that Marriott has experience in preventing long car lines in the queuing area by the main door, and that the Marriott family takes emergency preparations seriously, requiring ruthlessly efficient evacuation and fire detection systems in their establishments.
Overall, board members were pleased with the available facilities that the hotel promises, though some, such as Lanny Kurzweil, suggested a possible mural to enliven the hotel’s blank south wall hiding the porte-cochere entrance. Further hearings are tentatively scheduled for the $35 million project, and Stolar hopes to get it completed by early 2016.