Hotel Upgrade

Chicago group renovates Brooks inn

By Bill Dries

Jay Michael and his business partners in Chicago were interested in a portfolio of apartment buildings in Chicago going up for auction in 2010 when they came across a hotel in Memphis in the grouping.

Jay Michael is a partner with the group of Chicago investors that have put $3.5 million into the hotel at 1471 Brooks Road and rebranded it as a Clarion Hotel.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“We decided to try to come to Memphis that night, but we missed the last flight out,” Michael said. “So we drove through the night.”

They stopped at the old Ramada Inn at 1471 Brooks Road and looked around and had several conflicting thoughts.

“We saw that the hotel had the bones of a really grand hotel, but the area had become so dilapidated that the hotel had to follow suit almost,” he said. “We drove by Graceland and we thought that microcosm of Elvis Presley Enterprises was really great. But everything around it was really terrible.

“It just seemed logical. They’ve got a great product so we think there should be great hotels in the area.”

A year and a half and $3.5 million of renovations into the project, the hotel has been branded a Clarion, all 245 rooms are just about renovated, the hotel restaurant has reopened and is awaiting its liquor license, and Michael and his partners plan to launch the new Clarion Cedar Hotel in May.

That’s when they plan to have their liquor license and reopen the hotel lounge known as Dad’s Place, which is how many longtime Memphians identify the building.

The lounge – which will again be branded Dad’s Place – is part of the history of Memphis’ lounge circuit that featured live music well into the disco era. The plan is to feature Elvis tribute artists at the reopened lounge.

The renovation of the guest rooms is above what has been the recent standard along the street, Michael said.

“We chose to work with Clarion because they gave us a lot of flexibility on the rooms and in the lobby,” he added. “I wanted it to feel like Martha Stewart meets Paula Deen in Memphis. … To put the modern Holiday Inn look in that lobby would have failed the local market. It would have failed the tourists which are coming here for Graceland.”

The Cedar Street group bought a plot of open land east of the hotel and has plans for an urban garden there.

Alejandro Bobadilla and Marcos Barrales renovate the offices of a hotel at 1471 Brooks Road that has had a $3.5 million facelift and is being rebranded as a Clarion Hotel. The hotel was home to Dad’s Place lounge and will have a grand opening in May. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“We’re going to be able to offer farm to table at the Clarion if this all works out the way we hope,” Michael said. “It’s offering farm to table at a hotel brand that normally buys all of its produce from Sysco.”

The hotel was built in 1974, according to Shelby County Assessor of Property records.

That was about two years after the arrival of strip clubs in Memphis and before they moved east of the hotel on Brooks and south on Airways Boulevard.

Brooks Road’s time as the center of the strip club industry coincided with a persistent prostitution problem on the stretch of Brooks between Airways and Interstate 240.

For a business attempting any other kind of nightlife, the street has been a challenge.

“Just Brooks Road alone was such a rough street. It’s changed endlessly since I got here,” Michael said, crediting the city for the change around the property. “We’ve become married to the area almost more than the hotel.”

Until now, Cedar Street Hospitality has focused on apartment buildings. The Clarion on Brooks is its first hotel.

But Michael said the concept of a challenging environment isn’t new from the partners’ experience managing residential and commercial property.

“I’ve seen areas change,” he said. “We knew what we were getting into. I don’t know if we knew how deep we were getting in, in terms of the neighborhood.”

Michael is still sorting out the detachment some locals feel and enforce from the Elvis persona that Cedar Street wants to link up with.

“By adding value to their brand, you’re adding value to the Memphis brand,” he said of Elvis Presley Enterprises. “That’s something I just don’t understand – why no one wants to hear. Elvis Presley is a lot of what Memphis is. That brand is synonymous with Memphis.”

Cedar Street supports the city’s application for a federal grant to begin changing the streetscape of Elvis Presley Boulevard.

Michael has his eye on one more change: He wants to change the name of at least a part of Brooks Road, though he doesn’t have a name in mind yet.