|Redefining Kenmore Square
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
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
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
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