Hotel Commonwealth
Redefining Boston's Grand Hotel Tradition
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Redefining Kenmore Square Bullet Points on Keefe


Frank Keefe is developing the Hotel Commonwealth, a 150-room European-style hotel scheduled to open in early November, a project that will change the look and feel of Kenmore Square.

Keefe runs his own development firm, the Keefe Co., and is a partner in Great Bays Holdings, which is developing the hotel, along with Terrence Guiney and Dennis Callaghan. Boston University is also a limited partner in the project at 500 Commonwealth Ave.

Among the buildings that were torn down to make way for the new hotel was The Rat, an infamous rock club that hosted bands like U2 and the Police in their up- and-coming days, something Keefe says he and his partners still get grief for.

Keefe spoke recently with reporter Bill Archambeault about how the hotel will change Kenmore Square.


  • Keefe was the secretary of Administration and Finance during the Dukakis administration.
  • Keefe intends to lease the hotel's retail space to Boston-area businesses, including a restaurant, a 24-hour French bistro, a florist, a bank and possibly a clothing store.
  • On Kenmore Square: "I've always been intrigued by the area. I worked with Boston University on trying to improve the quality of the public realm in and around Kenmore Square, and just looking at the buildings, I saw tremendous promise."


Q How difficult is it developing a hotel in Boston these days?

A It's a real challenge. There's certainly market demand, and Boston is one of the great destination cities in America, if not the world, but hotels are an intriguing kind of real estate.

Unlike an apartment building where you sign leases for 12 months, or an office building where you sign leases for five years or 10 years, or a shopping center where you sign leases for five years, 10 years, 15 years, with a hotel, every day is a new day. The financial underpinnings basically entail 365 snapshots of the year, and that causes concern and anxiety amongst lenders and developers and owners. So it's a very challenging kind of real estate development.

As compensation, it's a tremendous amount of fun. In a hotel, you basically design everything.


Q How do you see this hotel fitting into the existing fabric of Kenmore Square?

A We started out trying to rehabilitate it ...and that just didn't work for an sorts of reasons, one principal reason being the Americans with Disabilities Act. So we started from scratch with a new building, but one which very, very much relies upon the French second empire architectural tradition, which again, is an over the Back Bay, and, in fact, is right next door with the old Kenmore Hotel. But (the Commonwealth's architecture) has an edge. It has new interpretations which I think people will find very exciting.

 

Q In what ways do you think it will change Kenmore Square?

A It will totally redefine the square. It will become the destination within the square. And again, we hope to reach out and bring all of our surrounding neighborhoods into the hotel as their place to stay and relax and to have weddings and bar mitzvahs and proms and parties. We want to be a service to them, and frankly, we virtually stand alone in our entire neighborhood.

It's going to be a grand facility. My two partners, Dennis Callaghan and Terry Guiney, we've worked long and hard to make this a truly unique addition to the city of Boston, but most importantly, to the Kenmore-Fenway area.

 

Q How difficult was it to obtain financing?

A We did not have a difficult time. We actually had three proposals to provide the debt on the project and we went forward with one. Obviously, this was done before Sept. 11. It would have been a very different picture after Sept. 11.

Our competitive position amongst hotels, we think, is very strong. We have a fabulous market all around us and we are virtually alone in serving that market, and we're in the best position to service that market.


Q Is there any truth to the rumor that you're bringing the Rat back?

A
(Laughs). The Rat is a great historical institution, but it was getting a little seedy in the last few years. That was not an architectural gem. We bought it, the place was a dump and we enjoyed tearing that building down. Though I must admit, Dennis, my partner, he travels all over the country and he gets a lot of animus from folks when they hear he bought the Rat and tore it down. Many, many great evenings, I guess, were spent there.

Hotel Commonwealth