There has been a revolution in hospitality in the last decade or so, and it has been the “homestay” experience. This is, of course, most exemplified by AirBnB and other sites that let out short-term rentals for tourists who want a homier, more low-key lodging experience in popular areas. There are already units like this in Philadelphia, but the city is gaining an influx of apartment rentals, thanks in part to excess supply and also to a great demand for lodgings tucked away, far from the tourist corridors, so that visitors gain a more “authentic” experience.
These quick-stay apartment conversions are being funded by well-heeled companies like Sonder Corp. and Lyric Hospitality Inc., whose key targets are guests seeking homier overnight stays. Right now, it is estimated that there are over 1,300 apartments set aside for short-term stays that are in operation right now, or are being built and set aside for that purpose. For scale, that’s as many rooms as there are in Pennsylvania’s most capacious conventional hotel, the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown near the Pennsylvania Convention Center. That number was estimated by the Philadelphia Inquirer based on zoning notices, booking websites, and interviews with landlords and operators. Most of these have popped up in the last year, and so the number doesn’t include apartments in buildings that have been set aside for short stays, but not yet documented. One example is Southern Land Co.’s Laurel tower beside Rittenhouse Square, which will be Philadelphia’s tallest residential building when completed.
What is the appeal of an apartment over a hotel? First of all, you have more room to spread out, as well as more amenities. For example, a full-sized apartment typically has a full-sized kitchen and at least one bedroom with a door that closes, which is more than can be said for a regular hotel room. These apartments are located in less “touristy” areas than major hotels, which give visitors a chance to feel more like locals and experience the city from a more authentic viewpoint. They also tend to cost less money per night, although the typical apartment stay requires a minimum commitment of nights.
From the Inquirer:
For the weekend of June 10, for example, a studio apartment with a washer, dryer, and full kitchen can be booked from San Francisco-based Lyric at the newly built 1213 Walnut St. apartment tower for $164 a night, $2 cheaper than the Rodeway Inn budget hotel across the street, according to the two brands’ websites.
Lyric has additionally gone out of its way to make the apartments extra-accommodating to guests. They are serving up a taste of local flavor with kitchens kitted out with pour-over coffee setups featuring beans from local roasters (ReAnimator in Philadelphia) and living areas equipped with turntable-equipped sound systems to play vinyl recordings of Philly-based artists like Son Little, Dr. Dog, and Santigold.
According to Stuart Levy, a management and tourism studies professor at George Washington University in Washington, the growth of the apartment quick-stay grew in part due to the aggressive growth of apartments and condos as a decade-long construction boom, especially in Center City. Meanwhile, visitors are becoming comfortable with lodgings that offer fewer traditional amenities like on-site dining, fitness centers, concierges, and valet services. “It’s become easier than ever to really have a kind of ‘D.I.Y.’ travel experience,” says Levy
Examples of apartment stays include just one unit in a building, as is the case at the locally based Birdnest Group, which has one apartment under lease at the Berger Building, a former roofers’ supply factory in Old City. On the other side of the spectrum is the 268 hotel-apartments managed by the AKA division of Philadelphia-based Korman Communities Inc. in the super-tall FMC Tower by the Schuylkill in University City. At Granary apartment building at 19th and Callowhill Streets, Spokane Valley, Wash.-based Stay Alfred Inc. leases 22 units. Stay Alfred also manages 17 apartments ready to go from a Philadelphia company dubbed Ur Home in Philly at the Luna on Pine at 400 S. 40th St. in University City.
One interesting facet of the quick-stay apartment business that remains an unknown in Philadelphia is how residents will react to the proximity of neighbors that rotate like a revolving door. Other big US cities have had to stoop to legislation that limits how often apartments can be rented over 365 days, or regulates the minimum length of stay for visitors. Right now, there are no similar bills on the books in Philadelphia.