Like Benjamin Braddock of Charles Webb’s The Graduate, Providence Biltmore wasn’t always sure what path to take, floating around the pool of possibilities at times. While it started off on solid ground, rooted in impressive history, the institution did have to reinvent itself multiple times, as Sheraton-Biltmore, Biltmore Plaza, and Omni Biltmore over the years. Finally, in the spring of 2019, it will be known as Graduate Providence. AJ Capital Partners, a Chicago-based hospitality and real estate firm, bought the 294-room hotel for an undisclosed sum in October of 2017. According to city tax records, the assessed value of the building is $26.2 million.
Established in 1922, the hotel exemplified the grandeur of French Neo-Classicism, great heights of Gothic architecture, and stately columns of the Renaissance, tempered by restrained Neo-Federal influences. Warren & Wetmore, a New York architecture firm, designed the hotel to occupy the triangle created by Dorrance, Washington, and Eddy streets, which enclose the L-shaped building. Facing Kennedy Plaza, guests can see the city from any window. It has housed an upholstery shop, a photo lab, and a printing shop, and now, a McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks and a Starbucks.
While the destiny of those restaurants is still unknown, the fate of the hotel is clear – no matter the circumstances, it will pull through. After all, it did survive the 1954 Hurricane Carol, which flooded the building, and endured a temporary closure in the recession of 1975, before Buddy Cianci led rehabilitation efforts and helped designate the hotel a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
When it reopened in 1979, the hotel boasted the illuminated Biltmore sign, which beckoned visitors with neon glory, and the external glass elevator, which is now only decorative. Tim Franzen, president of Graduate Hotels, says, “We are excited to say that the exterior glass elevator and the iconic neon sign will all remain as-is.” He shares that all guest rooms, common areas, and event spaces will feature a blend of collegiate prep and local influence.
Franzen explains the acquisition, saying, “Providence is perfectly aligned with Graduate Hotels’ mission to bring unique accommodations to the most dynamic, university-anchored cities across the country. With five universities nearby and access to the city’s health care hub, primary modes of transportation, as well as restaurants, cultural venues, shops, and galleries, Graduate Providence will be ideally situated in the geographic center of downtown Providence.”
He says the aim is to create a place for locals and visitors to connect with the destination. “The hotel will offer thoughtful programming, which will be open to the public, and invite guests to engage with Providence through innovative workshops, fitness classes, dining experiences, and more.”