Fort Wayne Journal: Downtown revitalization projects bring tourism and new business to Northeast Indiana.

Restored 1928 Embassy movie palace in Fort Wayne, now home of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra, is one of many downtown projects that has revitalized the city’s downtown district. Photo Steve Linsenmayer

 

By Ron Bernthal

Like many Midwestern cities Fort Wayne, Indiana, was close enough to the rust belt to lose much its industry, and many of the small agricultural communities surrounding Fort Wayne lost family farms, as has happened throughout the Midwest.

Over the past decade, however, Fort Wayne’s downtown is no longer eerily quiet after dark, and its economic and cultural resurgence is helping the rebirth of the entire Northeast Indiana region. Other Indiana towns, like Gary, Kokomo, and Evansville, are also reinventing themselves in similar ways, but Fort Wayne, with its intensive public/private fund raising efforts and cooperative spirit, seems to be running on double-speed.

More than $500 million has been invested to support downtown revitalization, and another $600 million is pledged for projects for the next ten years. In the pretty little towns spread out on flat farmland outside Fort Wayne,  new warehouses, distribution centers and software firms are now sprouting on unplowed bean and corn fields, trendy cafes and boutiques are opening in formerly  empty storefronts, and young people are staying put, finally seeing new career opportunities in their own backyard.  More than 500 million dollars has been invested to support downtown revitalization, and another $600 million is pledged for projects for the next ten years.

Local city officials and redevelopment committees started with ideas from other cities that had successfully revitalized their downtown streets using baseball as a major ingredient. Case studies from around the country at different ballparks like Boston’s Fenway Park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field in Chicago and NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, North Carolina, were mentioned and discussed.  The idea of using unique ballpark features to attract fans were eventually implemented at Fort Wayne’s new Parkview Field, home of the San Diego Padres minor league team, the Tincaps, in the form of the Home Run Porch in left field, the Treetops in right field, and similar high-top tables down the third-base line.

The public also had to be reassured with regard to safety, parking and the feasibility of a downtown ballpark. Would it be safe in downtown Fort Wayne at night? Would there be enough parking? Would anyone want to go downtown after 5 p.m.? As it turns out, the answers to all three of those questions was a resounding yes. Parkview Field was funded and constructed via a public-private partnership between the team and the City of Fort Wayne. The move downtown brought not only a new identity for the team, but also an entirely new experience that involved the entire community of Fort Wayne, Allen County, Northeast Indiana and beyond. The new ballpark didn’t just signal that there was a new sporting venue in Fort Wayne, but that a one-of-a-kind facility was becoming a staple of a revitalized downtown.

Over the past few years, the ballpark neighborhood was joined at Harrison Square by “The Harrison,” a mixed residential/commercial building, a 250-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel opened in 2010, as well as a much needed indoor parking garage, and professional baseball’s only “center field” (that is also an official city park) opened as part of Parkview Field. In addition, Cityscape Flats, a $27 million housing complex with 163 units, now sits across from the stadium. All these new development projects, in turn, attracted added business to the neighboring Grand Wayne Convention Center, resulting in over $50 million in additional development to Fort Wayne’s downtown in less than five years. Hampton Inn & Suites has announced it plans to build a 125-room hotel along West Jefferson Boulevard, across from the Grand Wayne Convention Center between the Courtyard by Marriott and Parkview Field, opening in summer 2019. The new development, a $20 million project, will allow for expanded opportunities in downtown.

Aerial view of Parkview Field and downtown Fort Wayne (Photo Visit Fort Wayne)

These days Parkview Field itself brings in more than 400,000 fans for TinCaps games and plays host to more than 400 non-baseball events each year, drawing another 100,000 people to the area. The ballpark is open 365 days a year as a public facility with runners and walkers enter the stadium each day for laps around the field.

In recent years, in a role reversal that is quite dramatic, officials and business leaders from more than 30 other cities have visited Fort Wayne to study the Parkview Field neighborhood as a model and catalyst for their own city’s downtown revitalization.

Work on the long-awaited Riverfront Fort Wayne has already begun. During the summer of 2017 Fort Wayne’s Mayor Tom Henry broke ground on Promenade Park, which is the first phase of the a project that is expected to not only change the face of this historic, Northeast Indiana city, but attract many thousands of visitors to an old manufacturing town that that is finally beginning to reinvent itself.

Mural below freight train tracks highlights Fort Wayne’s skyline and historic downtown revitalization projects.

Likewise, the city’s three rivers have also played a role in Fort Wayne’s reinvention. In 1697 the French build a fort along the area’s St. Mary’s River, and along with the Maumee and the St. Joseph Rivers, they were once the center of local life, commerce and transportation as Fort Wayne grew into a busy hub of trade and commerce. Its strategic location was often referred to as the “crossroads” by early settlers and Native Americans because it provided access to travel in three directions.

In the late 1700’s President George Washington appointed Revolutionary War General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to lead an expedition in the Northwest Indian War. On August 20, 1794, Wayne mounted an assault on the Indian confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, in modern Maumee, Ohio (just south of present-day Toledo), which was a decisive victory for the U.S. forces, ending the war.

Once the city of Fort Wayne was established in 1829, named after General Wayne, who had established an American fort at the confluence of the city’s three rivers in 1794 at the end of the Northwest Indian Wars.  These three rivers became part of a larger network of transportation in the entire region, and by the mid-1800s, the city became known as the “Altoona of the West” for its busy railroad route, and its location on the Wabash and Erie Canal earned it the nickname “Summit City” because it was the highest point above sea level on the canal route.

The three rivers brought prosperity and commerce to Fort Wayne throughout the early- to mid-1900s, with the noted landscape architect George Kessler organizing and expanding the city’s urban landscape to incorporate all three rivers, creating a plan for present-day Lakeside Park and Headwaters Park. But as the 20th century moved forward, and other transportation modes developed, the rivers largely fell to disuse, with floodwater levees eventually hiding them behind concrete walls and natural brush.

In 2011, however, as part of the city’s downtown revitalization projects, Mayor Henry established Legacy Fort Wayne to guide the spending of approximately $75 million to restore the river banks and prepare for extensive downtown riverfront development. With more riverfront funds approved by city officials in 2015, and other downtown hotel, restaurant and mixed-use development projects happening throughout the city, Riverfront Fort Wayne was organized, and residents began moving back into Fort Wayne, not only from the rural suburbs nearby, but from bigger cities in the state, like Indianapolis, and around the country.

Today, construction on the $20 million first phase of the scenic riverfront project is underway, and visitors are already boating, kayaking and biking, with commerce and community events taking place along the three rivers. The city now gets drinking water from the St. Joseph River for some 250,000 people, and when finished the new Promenade Park will include, among other amenities, the Compass Pavilion, which will serve as the park’s anchor venue for events, an amphitheater and a kid’s canal.

Canal boat on one of Fort Wayne’s three rivers (Photo Visit Fort Wayne

Other current and on-going public and private projects in the city, some of them part of the Fort Wayne’s Vision 2020 strategic plan, include:

The Landing, where plans to revitalize this historic downtown street block has already begun.  A total of 100,000 square-feet is available for development into an art district with a mix of housing, businesses, and entertainment, all along the St. Mary’s River.  The result is an ongoing project that is restoring the city’s most historic buildings into trendy mixed-use facilities, often with cafes, restaurants, art galleries and high-tech businesses on lower floors, and new residential apartments on the upper floors of the five and six-story brick buildings.

Randall Lofts mixed-use residential and retail project in a Fort Wayne historic district near St. Mary’s River. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

Insurance agency Ash Brokerage’s new $98 million, nine story downtown headquarters is known as Ash Skyline Plaza and has brought more than 435 jobs to downtown Fort Wayne, including 260 Ash Brokerage employees. Opening in late 2017 or early 2018 will be Skyline Tower, a modern 124-unit residential building with a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and upscale retail shops on the lower level.

New Ash Brokerage building in downtown Fort Wayne has helped bring in new employees and has attracted Ruth’s Chris Steak House as building tenant. Photo courtesy Ash Brokerage

 

Ash Brokerage atrium Photo courtesy Ash Brokerage

 

A former manufacturing warehouse built in 1905 is set for a $9.8 million transformation into Superior Lofts, a revitalized space with 72 apartments and retail space set to open in 2018, which followed the 2014 restoration and opening of Randall Lofts, a similar historic warehouse conversion by the same developer.

New business and residential development means new restaurants as well, including Tolon Farm to Fork, where the menu includes the names of a dozen local farms that supply the eatery with everything from smoked goose and whitetail deer to organic vegetables and Utopian Coffee’s best blends.  The Golden is another new downtown restaurant, created by local chefs Aaron Butts and Sean Richardson, they offer a constantly changing menu that may include a charcuterie platter, veal sweetbreads, corn ash pasta, chicken breast and an extensive cocktail service. Also recently opened downtown is the spacious and modern Happy Gnome with a diverse menu that includes not only a large selection of unique tacos, stuffed with everything from duck confit, to korean short rib, to a basic “taqueria” style taco. There is also a non-tacos menu offering items like pan seared salmon, wood-fired ribs, and Thai lamb chops.

Two General Motors suppliers are expanding their Fort Wayne operations with plans to create more than 300 jobs by the end of 2018. Michigan-based Android Industries and sister company Avancez say they will invest a total of nearly $15 million in the project. Fort Wayne’s Arts United Center, created by noted architect Louis Kahn, his only completed work in the Midwest, is planning to expand its beautiful downtown campus, and city’s iconic company. Vera Bradley, the popular American luggage and handbag design company, was founded by Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia Miller in Fort Wayne in 1982, has been a generous supporter of Fort Wayne’s revitalization efforts, as have many other private firms in the city.

The historic, transcontinental Lincoln Highway’s original 1915 route passed through downtown Fort Wayne on its way to the West Coast. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

 

 

 

 

The biggest individual project in Fort Wayne, however, is just getting started with the redevelopment of the historic General Electric’s Broadway campus. Rebranded as “Electric Works,” and playing up the fact that the late 1800′s/early 1900’s red-brick buildings have been a Fort Wayne landmark for over 100 years, developers plan a multi-year project to transform the urban neighborhood into a district with commercial, retail, residential, hotel and community spaces, along with an area for a university.

Historic GE Fort Wayne Campus in 1914. Image courtesy Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

The Electric Works campus, which encompasses 31 acres and approximately 1.2 million square-feet across 8 remaining vacant buildings, will be redeveloped into the $300 million, mixed-use Innovation District.  “This will bring all our resources to bear,” said Kevan Biggs, of Biggs Property Management, one of the major Fort Wayne developers involved in the project. “We expect construction to begin in 2018.” (Major developers for the project include RTM Ventures, a joint venture created by Cross Street Partners, of Baltimore; Greenstreet Ltd., of Indianapolis; and Biggs Development, of Decatur, a Fort Wayne suburb).

The future Electric Works campus after conversion to mixed-use facility. Rendering courtesy Electric Works.

Architect Kevin Scully of Design Collaborative said there’s going to be a lot more than housing planned for the 300,000+ square feet of space in the first two buildings of Phase 1. “Plans call for a hotel, apartments, both market-rate and subsidized by tax credits, commercial space, artist studios or other work facilities,” Scully said.

“We want techies. We want foodies. We want artists. We want makers,” said Bill Struever, principal of Cross Street Partners. “Attracting a mix of creative people to live and work in the former GE campus is fundamental to the development’s strategy.”

Dan Swartz is the founder of Wunderkammer, a 7,000 square-foot contemporary art center in the heart of Fort Wayne. Wunderkammer is an eclectic organization that curates exhibitions, educational programs, performances and special events that push boundaries and spur conversations, much like the GE plant transformation.  “Any time you could add tourism to the arts, it makes it a million times better,” Swartz said, referring to the prospect of a deluxe hotel as part of the new Electric Works complex.

Electric Works mixed-use facility will include hotel, residential, school, offices, restaurants and retail development when completed. Rendering courtesy Electric Works.

Architects working on the Electric Works redevelopment have described the rough plans for every floor. The plans for Building 4 and Building 6 of the old General Electric campus would use about a fourth of the square footage of all the buildings south of downtown that once were part of GE’s operations there.  Developers hope to begin work at the site in 2018, with the first tenants in late 2019 or early 2020.

The history of GE and its predecessor companies in Fort Wayne dates back to the late 19th century. At its peak in the 1940s, the company employed more than 10,000 people in the city, mainly producing electric motors. Employment declined through the following decades, and the company eliminated its last few dozen jobs in Fort Wayne in 2014.

General Electric security staff on payroll payment day at GE Fort Wayne plant, early 1920′s. The GE campus will be transformed into the Electric Works, a Renovation District with retail, residential, hotel, artist studios, office and educational spaces. (photo courtesy Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center)

In the coming months the Fort Wayne community will be asked to participate in the master planning process for Electric Works. This project will help reinvigorate the city’s residential core, will instill a new level of community commitment by the local universities, and will help transform Fort Wayne into a true national destination.

Electric Works’ Phase I is expected to include:

• 224,000 square feet of office space

• 113,000 square feet of educational/institutional space

• 83,000 square feet of retail space, including restaurants and a food hall

• 83,000 square feet of dedicated innovation space

• 82,000 square feet of residential space

• 31,000 square feet of recreational and amenity space

All the current and expected projects in the city are surely having an effect on Fort Wayne’s employment numbers. Between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015, the region added 4,491 jobs, bringing the metro job base to just below 200,000. Health care led in job creation, accounting for one-in-four new jobs, and with the strongest wage gains seen in lower-wage sectors like retail, agriculture, accommodation and food services, and manufacturing, this will mean higher tax revenue for the city, with more people eating out and enjoying Fort Wayne’s attractions and recreational facilities.  These days, Fort Wayne is home to one of the hottest housing markets in the country, has one of the lowest costs of living in the nation, and was recently ranked the #1 best city to raise a family.

Outdoor sculpture by Mark di Suvero, one of the most highly regard living sculptors in America at Fort Wayne’s Museum of Art (Photo Fort Wayne Museum of Art)

Part of the allure regarding Fort Wayne’s real estate is the feeling that since so many big urban projects are taking place at the same time, the city is going to attract a slew of start-up firms, tech-savvy millennials looking for the new “it” city, and retirees who can purchase a Victorian-era home or a spacious loft apartment within walking distance of downtown restaurants, museums and a minor league baseball stadium. In addition the city has an incredibly low tax rate, always a plus for future economic development.

 

 

SAS FLIGHT REVIEW NEWARK – STOCKHOLM SAS PLUS

 

Interior A-330 aircraft, SAS Plus cabin. Photo courtesy SAS

By Ron Bernthal

I arrived at Newark’s terminal B about two hours early for the 5:20 pm daily non-stop flight (SK904) to Stockholm.  Check-in at the SAS counter was fast and efficient using the dedicated SAS Plus (premium economy) check-in line, and I arrived at the SAS Lounge (free access for SAS Business & Plus passengers) with plenty of time to enjoy the snacks, reading materials and WiFi. The SAS Lounge New York (Newark) was being upgraded and expanded during my visit, the only drawback was that the bathroom facilities in the lounge were closed, and lounge passengers had to use the lavatories in the main terminal, just outside the lounge doors. The expansion is now completed, and includes 40 additional seats and additional lavatories,  as well as updated design of the Café and reception areas.

SAS Lounge, Terminal B, Newark Airport. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The lounge offers a buffet with sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, within a Scandinavian-designed environment of light wood tables and chairs, attractive lighting, and huge windows facing an awaiting SAS A330 aircraft filling up with baggage, food and fuel at gate 60.Boarding began at 4:50 pm via the Business Class priority line.  My aisle seat was on the two-side of the 2-3-2 configuration, all 56 SAS Plus seats offer a spacious 38” pitch, 18.3” width, 7” recline and leg rests. The SAS Plus cabin looked especially clean, with no scratches or fabric tears, and I decided that this A330 must be one of the newer, or more recently retrofitted aircraft, with nice looking charcoal grey and blue seats and carpeting. The large, 12” HD seat-back entertainment screens offered more than 200 hours of films and other audio and video services, and power outlets are available for each seat, with extra USB ports.  In SAS Business and Plus cabins there is free WiFi, and the ability to make calls and use mobile phones inflight through a GSM connection, which means that passengers are charged international roaming rates by their mobile operator. Earphones were distributed free to all passengers.

The soft and comfortable duvet provided at each SAS Plus seat would be a welcome amenity during the evening flight. We pulled back from our gate at exactly on-time at 5:20 pm (how better does it get?) with lift-off at 6:10. Even better than the quick time getting off the ground were were the “landscape cameras” mounted on the front and bottom of the aircraft. Although our cruising altitude was too high to see much of anything via the cameras, from my screen controls I turned the front camera on during the take-off and landing portions and they provided great cockpit window views of the urban terrain near Newark and archipelago and forest views during the Stockholm approach into Arlanda Airport.

( photo courtesy SAS)

Meal service was great, with dinner consisting of broiled salmon, rice, salad, rolls and cake, with white wine. For breakfast we were served a plate with cold turkey, cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomato, yogurt and granola, bread, orange juice and coffee. I chose some mid-flight snacks as well, including some really delicious banana/strawberry, guava, and starfruit/yuzu smoothies. The smoothies are made by the Swedish smoothie company called Froosh, originally started to give consumers in the Nordic countries a convenient, delicious and healthy way to get more fruit into their diet. The company, now headquartered in Copenhagen, another SAS destination, uses 100% fruit completely free of any concentrates, sugar or preservatives. In early 2017 SAS started offering this a new range of food and beverage items, focusing on functionality, natural ingredients and high quality products from local, Scandinavian producers. Some of the new snacks, in addition to Froosh smoothies, include Larssons Chips from Sweden, Speedy Tom Chocolate from Denmark, and Imsdal spring water and Ringi apple juice from Norway.
Alcoholic drinks are also included in the mix, including Danish Mikkeller vodka, Mackmyra whiskey from Sweden and Harahorn gin from Norway.  Most of the new snacks are available on Scandinavian and European SAS flights, with a few showing up on international routes, and all are complimentary for SAS Plus passengers.

Just before landing in Stockholm at 7:10 am (five minutes early), with many passengers still asleep, the cabin’s ambient lighting was turned on, allowing the aircraft’s interior to be bathed in a pale orange light, which gradually increased in intensity until the normal, white cabin lighting signaled the end of the flight and our imminent landing in Sweden.

With the rise of leisure and business travel to Scandinavia, due to the region’s reputation as being safe, clean, less expensive than in previous years, and has become one of the world’s newest culinary destinations, SAS has added non-stop flights from the U.S. and has enhanced its aircraft and onboard amenities to stay competitive with the no-frills, low-cost carriers that have eked out a foothold in the U.S. market. “Last year we increased our US to Scandinavia capacity by 25 percent,” said Max Knagge, General Manager The America’s for SAS. “We are offering the most non-stop flights, which is helping us meet the demand from our leisure passengers. Also, many people are beginning to realize that because of the currency exchange and the stronger U.S.dollar, prices in Scandinavia for hotels, meals and public transportation is often less than in many U.S. destinations.  They are hearing this from friends who come back with stories of how they were surprised at the affordable prices. In addition, Scandinavia has beautiful nature, interesting culture, and we know how high the Nordic countries rate in the global ‘happiness’ rankings,” said Knagge.  “And, of course, the food scene in Scandinavia is really taking off, with people discovering Nordic cuisine and all the fresh fish and seafood available as being very healthy and good tasting.”

Preparing breakfast treats in Gothenburg’s historic Haga district (photo Ron Bernthal)

For passengers flying SAS to Oslo’s new expanded airport, they can experience the world’s “greenest” airport terminal —it’s the first to receive the BREEAM Excellence sustainability rating, the expansion is chock full of sustainable features, including passive-house-level insulation, predominantly natural lighting, recycled building materials, and natural thermal energy sources.

The 377,000-square-foot extension was designed by the airport’s original architects, Nordic Office of Architecture, who managed to reduce the building’s carbon footprint by 35 percent and cut energy needs by 50 percent—all while increasing the airport’s capacity from 19 million to 30 million passengers.

One of the most unusual additions is a massive watertight basin beneath the building. In winter, airport ploughs clear snow off the runways and pour it into the basin, storing upwards of 2 million gallons of Oslo snow. The icy substance is then used to cool the terminal in the summer, saving as much as 2 GWh of energy for cooling.The interior’s Scandinavian-sourced timber, planted walls, and fountains all contribute to an improved visitor experience.

New, expanded Oslo Airport terminal is the “greenest in the world” photo by Ivan Brodey via Inhabitat

SAS operates daily flights to Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen from Newark Liberty International Airport, and services Scandinavia from six additional U.S. cities including Newark, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Miami.

Turi Wideroe, Flight Officer, the first woman pilot of a commercial airline, in 1969, shown in 1972 as jet co-pilot. (photo courtesy SAS)

SAS www.flysas.com

Griffintown Journal: Former Montreal industrial area now a trend-setting neighborhood


Above, old warehouse buildings still hover above the industrial landscape of Griffintown, a former industrial neighborhood undergoing revitalization close to downtown Montreal.

By Ron Bernthal

 

About 100 years ago a Montreal neighborhood called Griffintown was the center of the city’s waterfront industrial life.  Because part of the neighborhood was located along the Lachine Canal, a shipping waterway opened in 1825 just southwest of downtown, Griffintown became a choice location for factories, breweries, warehouses and shipping companies.

Griffintown, early 1900′s, with the smoke of factories in the air, warehouses and Lachine shipping canal on left side of photo.

 

In 1959, when the nearby St. Lawrence Seaway opened to large vessels, and canal-side factories needed more hydro power than the Lachine could provide, the end of Griffintown’s economic prosperity was doomed.  When the canal was closed to all shipping in 1970 the neighborhood around it went downhill fast, with former factories and warehouses standing empty, or demolished to make way for inexpensive houses and apartments. By the early 1990’s the area’s deindustrialization was complete, and for a while it looked like the area would remain an obsolete, quiet and somewhat desolate neighborhood.

 

But new residents, including artists and entrepreneurs looking for real estate bargains, and some officials within the Montreal municipality, would see Griffintown as an opportunity for reinvention and rebranding.  The city’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board named the Lachine Canal the “Lachine Canal Manufacturing Complex” and Parks Canada soon began to oversee the clean-up and restoration of the canal.

 

During the past decade Griffintown has seen a large increase in residential and commercial development, with modern, mixed-use facilities, art galleries and studios, restaurants and new, upscale housing units being constructed within the renovated shells of the old brick warehouses and factories. Along with the nearby neighborhoods of Pointe-Saint-Charles and Saint-Henri, also former industrialized districts, Griffintown has become desirable location for young singles and couples wishing to live within walking distance of downtown Montreal, and with visitors seeking new restaurant, shopping and gallery venues.

House values have skyrocketed and many real estate developers have turned the century-old industrial factories and warehouses, including the former Simmons Bedding Company at 4710 St-Ambroise (now known as the Complexe du Canal Lachine) into prestigious residential loft buildings.  Another historic landmark, the 1908 Mount Royal Spinning Company’s textile factory at 5524 rue St. Patrick, is now Complexe Dompark, with commercial, custom-designed lofts filled with more than 90 established firms and start-ups working in media, fashion, publishing and service industry-based areas. The old Redpath Sugar refinery at St-Patrick and Montmorency is now partially Lofts Redpath, converted after being abandoned since 1980, and the area around Atwater Market has become one of Montreal’s most desirable residential areas for condo developments, although critics have bemoaned the loss of many small family houses, daycare centers and schools that were once located in the neighborhood.

 

“My partners and I bought two late 19th-century buildings in Griffintown, a knitting factory and the powerhouse next door,” said Luc Laroche, a Montreal native, about the beginnings of Le Richmond, a restaurant in one building and a bistro and Italian market in the other, both very popular neighborhood eateries.

“Griffintown has grown much like SoHo, in New York City,” said Laroche from his brick-walled second-floor office above the former knitting factory.  “Former warehouses on side streets are now loft apartments, art galleries and restaurants.  We restored our two buildings using the original bricks and bringing in hemlock to replicate the original wood interior. We hired older Italian men for the tile work inside, and visitors really love the mix of our historic atmosphere, the upscale gourmet market and high quality cuisine we offer.”

Le Richmond’s Marchéitalien (Italian market) and Bistro is part of Griffintown’s emergence as one of Montreal’s fastest growing neighborhoods. (photo courtesy Le Richmond)

In 2002, the Lachine Canal was reopened as a pleasure boating area, and the banks of the canal were redeveloped. An environmental reclamation project continues to clean up old oil spills, but the banks of the canal now offer bicycling and roller-blading paths, and Parks Canada offers guided tours of the canal by foot, bicycle, and boat during the summer months, with the Lachine Canal bike path placed third on Time Magazine’s list of the top 10 urban bike paths in the world. There are several Bixi bike stations in the neighborhood, Montreal’s easy-to-use, shared-bicycle rental program, which has been hugely successful since its 2009 start, with thousands of bikes and hundreds of stations placed throughout the city.

Biking along the Lachine Canal with Griffintown in background across the canal (photo courtesy Parks Canada)

 

New structures continue to rise among the older buildings still standing in the historic Griffintown neighborhood. The Griffix condo project, at the corner of Peel and Wellington streets, was constructed on top of an original one-story brick building and reaches 20 stories with 175 residential units and ground floor commercial space.  Across the street, at 120 Rue Peel, a beautifully designed 154-room Alt Hotel, part of Groupe Germain Hotels, opened in 2014, offering visitors modern rooms, innovative meeting spaces, a trendy bar, and located just five-minutes’ walk to the Lachine Canal, 15 minutes to Montreal’s downtown Amtrak station, and a five-minute taxi ride to McGill University’s main gate.

Built into the facade of the new Alt Hotel Montreal is a unique terrace meeting space. (photo courtesy Groupe Germain Hotels

Today, Griffintown, or “The Griff” as it is sometimes referred to, is a highly livable, walkable neighborhood, with six new public green spaces and $93 million of public investment in infrastructure and local amenities.  After city planners enacted more liberal residential rezoning regulations in Griffintown, allowing for taller, high density structures, it paved the way for dozens of design-driven,  mixed-use projects attracting young professionals and older suburbanites, who have moved into the area and are supporting Griffintown’s new art galleries, restaurants, cafes, eclectic shops and high-tech businesses, creating a thriving, upscale Montreal neighborhood.

 

Although Montreal has seen a steady loss of financial and corporate firms relocating to Toronto, and young men heading west for energy jobs in Calgary and Edmonton (until oil and gas prices dropped), the city continues to be one of Canada’s top spots for new trends in the arts (visual arts, dance, music and design), incredible new bistro’s and cafes, and where evolving neighborhoods like Griffintown keep the city relevant and exciting.

 

In 2017 Montreal will celebrate its 375th anniversary.  For information on special events and anniversary festivals go to Tourisme Montreal  Visiting Montreal

Le Richmond

Alt Hotel Montreal

Flight Review: JetBlue New York JFK – Houston Hobby

A320 at lift-off (photo George Santry/JetBlue)

Review by Ron Bernthal

During the past few years JetBlue has been rolling out new coach seats, galley relocations and the spacious “Even More Space” seats on all of its 162-passenger A320 aircraft, of which there are 130. All of JetBlue’s new A320 aircraft have a redesigned interior, including all-leather Recaro seats, 10 percent more overhead bin space and LED cabin lighting.

A320 cabin with new interior lighting (photo JetBlue)

During a flight from JFK Terminal 5 to Houston’s Hobby Airport I upgraded to an “Even More Space” seat, which provides an extra five inches in seat pitch (34” to 39”) and offers passengers early boarding privileges, allowing early access to overhead bins. The 42 “Even More Space” seats, usually located in the A320’s first five rows and in the two exit rows, should be purchased at time of booking, as they tend to fill up as the flight date approaches.

I have always thought JetBlue was the best domestic carrier since the airline first started service in 2000. At that time, JetBlue’s leather seats were the most comfortable, the ability to watch live TV was innovative, and the unlimited snacks were a terrific in-flight amenity. Although much of JetBlue’s A320 fleet is not brand new anymore, the flight experience has gotten even better as the entire fleet has undergone cabin refurbishment and upgraded technology. With the introduction of the ViaSat Wi-Fi system; the improved 36-channel TV system and 100+ channels of SIRIUS XM Radio, as well as movies and other entertainment options; free Fly-Fi Internet service that is available gate-to-gate; and with AC power and USB ports at all seats JetBlue has managed to maintain its superb inflight experience. The expansion of JetBlue’s premium Mint class on select long-haul flights has also greatly enhanced options for business travelers, with nine more new A321 aircraft equipped with Mint coming in 2017, and additional Mint-configured deliveries in 2018.

Larger seat-back entertainment screens on A320 aircraft (photo JetBlue)

My flight, JetBlue’s non-stop flight #581 from JFK, departed on time on a Tuesday afternoon and arrived at Houston’s convenient Hobby Airport about 3.5 hours later, shaving 20 minutes off the scheduled arrival time. I was happily surprised to see the new additions of Cheez-It Crackers and Ocean Spray Craisins in the free snack basket, along with the traditional TERRA Blues® healthy chips and other items.

I always like flying into Hobby rather than IAH (George Bush Intercontinental) due to its proximity to Houston’s downtown business district, but the airline offers service to IAH as well. As usual, JetBlue’s signature onboard services and comfort during the flight were far superior to most other U.S. carriers, with the free snacks basket, the extra leg-room of the “Even More Space” seat, and the friendliness of cabin staff.

JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at New York’s JFK Airport.

If time permits before your JetBlue flight, visit Terminal 5’s 24,000 square-foot rooftop farm. The T5 Farm was created through a partnership between JetBlue and TERRA brand, with support from GrowNYC Partners and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The TERRA brand provides TERRA Blues® chips on every JetBlue flight, and the T5 Farm will yield blue potatoes like those used to make the TERRA Blues.

The farm, which is open to passengers seeking sunlight and green space before their flights, will also produce arugula, beets, mint, basil and other produce from 3,000 crates on the roof of the terminal building. It is expected that more than 1,000 pounds of blue potatoes per year will be harvested at the T5 Farm. The plants being grown there were carefully selected to deter birds and other wildlife from migrating to the area.

JetBlue’s T5 Farm on roof of JFK’s Terminal 5 (photo JetBlue)

The T5 Farm is located pre-security on the departures level of Terminal 5, which Frommer’s recognized as one of the world’s ten most beautiful airport terminals. JetBlue’s T5 also features the Live From T5™ concert series, free Wi-Fi throughout the terminal, and noted restaurants.

JetBlue
800-538-2583

www.jetblue.com

Accor Pullman Barcelona Skipper

Exterior view of hotel, five-minute walk to Barceloneta beaches (photo courtesy Accor Hotels)

By Ron Bernthal

Barcelona is a Mediterranean city, a busy shipping, fishing and ferry port with numerous beaches and pleasure boat marinas, but there are few hotels in the city as close to the sea as the Accor Pullman Barcelona Skipper, a property located just a five minute walk to a long stretch of white sand beach in neighborhood of La Barceloneta.

I arrived on an early summer morning via the convenient Ciutadella/Vila Olímpica metro stop, a three minute walk through a lovely park to the hotel’s front entrance. A friendly front desk staffer informed me that my room was not yet available, but I could have a buffet breakfast at the ground floor Syrah restaurant while I waited, and/or change into a bathing suit in the Fit & Spa Lounge and use one of the two outdoor swimming pools.

View of rooftop pool overlooking Mediterranean and “Fish” sculpture by architect Frank Gehry. (photo courtesy Accor Hotels)

The interior of the property is colorful (red, black and white accents throughout), with lots of wood furnishings in the public areas and guestrooms, and with a somewhat nautical theme. The former ship-loving owner and builder of the hotel, which opened in 2006 and was purchased by the French chain, Accor, in 2009, maintained a yacht in a nearby marina and named the hotel. All 241 guestrooms are quite spacious, about 325 square-feet, the suites are even bigger, and many have balconies, large enough for two chairs and a table, overlooking the hotel’s ground level pool and flower garden and the Mediterranean. The 40” HDTV’s rotate out from the wall, making it possible to watch TV from the work desk, the King or Queen bed, or from the room’s comfortable reading chair. Another nice room amenity is the bar area with coffee/tea accoutrements, two wine glasses, china cups, silverware and a fully-stocked mini-bar. There is complimentary WiFi throughout the hotel, including at the outdoor swimming pools.

Hotel guestroom with view of Mediterranean from balcony (photo courtesy Accor Hotels)

The long, rectangular bathroom sink with two faucets and the large, heated, fog-free vanity mirror were unique design elements that looked nice, and worked beautifully. Other bath amenities included a phone next to the toilet commode, a large rain shower head, and C.O. Bigelow toiletries.

Located on the lower level is more than 10,000 square-feet of meeting space, with 10 meeting rooms lit by skylights, and a 675-person assembly hall. There is also a Connectivity Lounge business center on the lobby level with desktop computers, printers, additional meeting space and audio-visual hardware for small group presentations.

The hotel restaurant on the lobby level offers full lunch and dinner menus, with indoor or outdoor dining options, offering everything from salads and sandwiches to grilled fresh fish, organic beef and Iberian cured ham. The Power Lunch serves a healthy, energy-packed lunch in 45 minutes for business guests on the go.

I enjoyed the rooftop pool terrace, with its stunning views of the sea and architect Frank Gehry’s huge steel fish sculpture called “Peix d’Or” a shimmering golden fish juxtaposed against the glittering blue sea. The heated pool is a great place for an early morning or late afternoon swim, year-round, with chaises for sunbathing and a covered patio where light snacks and drinks are available from the rooftop service bar.

Rooftop swimming pool on sunny, summer weekend. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The Accor Pullman Barcelona Skipper is within the neighborhood of La Barceloneta, with its 18th-century designed pattern of narrow streets, small parks and lots of trees for shade. There is also a modern seaside biking and walking promenade, many seafood and tapas restaurants, and a plethora of small outdoor cafes. The hotel is also near El Poblenou, a former semi-industrial neighborhood now a vibrant and revitalized urban district with a wonderful local ambiance and design-driven buildings by Jean Nouvel, Herzog & de Meuron, and Dominique Perrault. The neighborhood is also not yet infiltrated by tour buses. Barcelona’s popular downtown attractions, including the Gothic Quarter and the Picasso Museum, are 15-20 minutes’ walk from the hotel.

Quet, tree-lined streets in Barceloneta are perfect for walking or biking. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Accor Barcelona Pullman Skipper
Av. del Litoral 10
Barcelona, Spain

http://www.pullman-barcelona-skipper.com

Husafell Hotel: New Design-Driven Hotel in Iceland’s Stunning & Wild Interior

Northern Lights from Husafell Hotel (photo courtesy Husafell Hotel)

 

Review by Ron Bernthal

Opened in 2015, the new Husafell Hotel, located in West Iceland’s sparsely settled interior, about 90 minutes from Reykjavik, is located just 20 minutes from Langjokull glacier on the edge of Iceland’s glaciel wildlands.

Exterior of design-driven Husafell Hotel by Icelandic architect opened in 2015 (photo courtesy Husafell Hotel)

The weather when I left Reykjavik that spring morning was cold and wet with howling winds, but after exiting the Hvalfjörður Tunnel, one of the world’s deepest (541 feet below sea level) and longest (3.5 miles) underwater road tunnels, the rain stopped, heavy grey clouds hovered over the snow-speckled landscape of rocky hillocks and wind-blown grassy pastures. Groups of wet sheep and horses stood in clumps, as still as statues, facing into the still fierce wind. When I stopped the car to take photos, the wind almost blew the car door off its hinges, and holding a cell phone or small camera without it shaking was impossible.

Wild Icelandic horses in wind and rain on the road to Husafell (photo Ron Bernthal)

Husafell has long been a “nature” getaway for the residents of Reykjavik who love to explore the nearby glaciers, lava caves, hiking trails and fishing streams of the Borgafjordur fjord, but it wasn’t until the modern, four-star, 36-room Husafell Hotel was opened that this area could be visited comfortably (12 additional rooms are scheduled to open mid-to-late 2016).

Upon arriving at the hotel I could understand why the local architect, Helgi Hjalmarsson, designed a low-profile, two-story building using local wood and gray slate as part of the building’s façade, and allowed the stunning landscape to enter the hotel through the many skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the property. Much of the construction process used local stone masons who worked on integrating the local Husafell stone, similar to the infamous “Husafell stone” used in traditional “strongman” competitions, into the buildings décor. Much of the stone artwork within and outside the building, as well as the prints in each guest room, were created by local stone sculptor and artist Páll Gudmundsson, a 6th generation Husafell resident.

Bathroom in normal first-floor, standard guest room. (photo courtesy Husafell Hotel)

My guest room, as well as all the other interior spaces, had lots of Nordic design features, including white walls, wide plank floors and comfortable sheepskin Icelandic-designed chairs, a heated bathroom floor, beautifully designed ceramic double-sinks, a walk-in shower and separate bathtub, and Soley toiletries from an Icelandic company that uses wild Icelandic herbs in all its products. There is a 42” TV, pull-out couch for a child or third adult, artwork and complimentary WiFi.

Guest room with Nordic desigh features (photo courtesy Husafell Hotel)

Husafell’s restaurant dining room faces the rocky hillsides and the glacier-filled, often snow covered mountains nearby. A cold, rushing stream parallels the main road next to the property, and the huge windows in the dining room showcase the Midnight Sun during summer, or the ethereal Northern Lights during the cold winter season. Also visible outside the windows are the geothermal indoor/outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs, available to guests year-round.

Views from dining room windows in winter are of snow-covered mountains and Northern Lights, or Midnight Sun during summer. (photo courtesy Husafell Hotel)

The restaurant offers sophisticated cuisine, including a beef carpaccio appetizer with pear and ginger jelly, dried pears, Parmesan and chili mayonnaise; main courses including locally caught cod, halibut and langoustine, and Icelandic grilled lamb fillet. The whipped Skyr meringue dessert includes birch syrup, red and green strawberries, white chocolate mousse and toasted white chocolate. Much of the vegetables and herbs comes from the nearby geothermal greenhouses. The property is totally self-sustainable, getting its energy from a small hydro-power plant on-site and geothermally heated water from the underground streams.

Natural geothermal springs near Husafell Hotel (photo courtesy Husafell Hotel)

In addition to the natural surroundings for glacier visits, hiking and biking trails and geothermal swimming pools, there is also a 9-hole golf course on the property. The hotel can arrange Into the Glacier tours to the Langjokull glacier by an 8WD Glacier Truck, and assist with a wedding at the nearby Ice Chapel. A small, modern meeting room, with all the high-tech bells and whistles, is available for corporate gatherings.

View of terrain near Husafell Hotel in March (photo Ron Bernthal)

Husafell Hotel
www.hotelhusafell.com

ICELANDAIR REVIEW: NEWARK-REYKJAVÍK, SAGA CLASS

REVIEW BY RON BERNTHAL

In 2014 more than one million people visited Iceland, three times the country’s population, and figures were expected to increase by another 76% in 2015. Needless to say, this large increase in business and leisure travel to Iceland has helped the country’s economy, which was shattered in the 2008 worldwide recession, when Iceland’s banks and economic institutions were rocked with deep losses. Today, Iceland and its major air carrier, Icelandair, are enjoying the success that comes when a country’s various elements – scenery, cuisine, fashion, design, safety and a modern infrastructure – have become of-the-moment trends among millennial travelers.

Founded in 1937, Icelandair was a fledgling airline when it was founded in 1927 in the small town of Akureyri on the north coast of Iceland. In 1940 the company moved its headquarters to the Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, and has been the country’s major airline since then, benefiting greatly recently from Iceland’s tremendous increase in passenger traffic from North America and Europe, its biggest international markets. Icelandair’s pioneering low-fare services across the North-Atlantic commenced in 1953, opening up the country to adventurous travelers, including many young backpackers, who discovered Iceland’s amazing glaciers, waterfalls, and mountain scenery.

Early Loftleidir flight crew before it merged with Icelandic Airlines (courtesy Icelandair)

Americans actually constructed the present international airport in Iceland in an area called Keflavík during World War II, when the U.S. Army Air Forces desired an airfield in Iceland capable of operating heavy bombers and fighters. Construction began in 1942 and by March, 1943, service for transatlantic military flights was started. At the end of the war the airport facilities became a refueling stop for the international flights between North America and Europe, and when the U.S. military withdrew in 1947, the airport was handed over to Iceland and renamed Keflavík Airport, and operated by both countries for transiting civil and military flights.

One of the first international flights on Icelandic Airlines (photo Icelandair)

The U.S. military returned to Keflavík in 1951 under the auspices of NATO (Naval Air Station Keflavík) and the joint operation continued until 2006, when the military installation was handed over to the government of Iceland. Because Iceland has no military of its own, there were some protests against keeping a NATO presence in the country, but now that the airport has been expanded, and the new terminal complex is dominated by international departures and arrivals, the NATO-base issue has become moot.

Fortunately, Kefkavík Airport’s 10,000-foot-long, 200-foot-wide runways are long enough to support any type of aircraft, so there was more than enough space to harbor several international flights that had to land in Iceland on September 11, 2001, when the U.S. government ordered all domestic airports to shut down for security purposes.

My first flight to Iceland was in 1973, when I purchased one of Icelandair’s very affordable round-trip flights from New York to Luxembourg, with a stop-over in Iceland. The airline still offers stopovers in Iceland on flights to more than 20 European destinations from the U.S., up to seven days stopover in one direction are permissible with no additional airfare. I returned to Iceland in 1993 for a newspaper travel story, and this year, in mid-March, to cover DesignMarch, the country’s annual Iceland Design Festival in Reykjavík, the country’s capital.

My flight started at Newark International Airport, with check-in for Icelandair’s non-stop evening flight to Reykjavík at their priority check-in line in Terminal B. For Saga Class passengers the boarding pass allows entry into TSA’s premium ticket lanes, and admittance to Lufthansa’s business class lounge, which Icelandair arranges for its Saga Class passengers. The Lufthansa in EWR’s Terminal B is somewhat small, with about 25 seats, and space for 12 smaller seats computer-style tables. Free WiFi is provided for lounge guests. A hot and cold buffet and self-service bar is also available.

Boarding began at 7:15 pm, and a separate lane was available for Saga passengers. The B757-200 on this flight has three sections (Economy, Economy Comfort, Saga) seating 183 passengers with a 3×3 configuration in economy and 2×2 seating in Saga class for 22 passengers. Although the Saga seats were not full-recline, they do have 40” pitch with ¾ recline, and seat-back entertainment screen with a full menu of movies, TV shows, games and flight information. Shortly after stowing gear in the overhead an amenity kit was provided, a Spanish cava was served, and soon after that, at 7:45 the aircraft departed the gate. After a relatively short wait, Icelandair’s flight 622 to Reykjavík lifted off at 8:00 pm, just five minutes behind schedule.

Service aboard Icelandair Saga Class (photo Icelandair)

Dinner was a nicely baked salmon (possibly Icelandic) with vegetables and desert, accompanied by a dry white wine from France. After watching a movie and a short nap, I heard the flight attendants moving about the cabin serving croissants, juice and coffee, announcing to the passengers that we would be landing in Iceland shortly. As we began our early morning descent towards the airport I was anxious to look out the window, eager to see the terrain from the air, but of course it was still winter in Iceland, the sky quite dark, with drops of rain on the window, and the only lights visible were streetlights in the small villages that hug the rocky coastline near the airport.

The flight landed at 6:00 am local time, I gathered my belongings, walked quickly to the passport windows, fully staffed and with no lines, and within fifteen minutes I had picked up my rental car right outside the terminal and was on the highway to Reykjavík, 30 miles away. By the time I reached the outskirts of the city the sky was becoming eerily brighter, no sun yet, but a faint orange glow appeared above the city, illuminating the snow covered landscape and the cozy house lights of early rising Icelanders.

Snowy streets and colorful houses in historic district of Reykjavik.

Each aircraft in the Icelandair fleet is named after 16 Icelandic volcanos, including Eyjafjallajokull, Heklaaurora, and Helgafell. Passengers boarding an Icelandair plane can see a plaque with the name and illustration of the volcano the aircraft was named after.

For information on non-stop flights to Iceland from North America contact:

Icelandair
www.icelandair.us

101 Hotel, Reykjavik


(Hotel photos courtesy Design Hotels™ )

101 Hotel, Reykjavik
www.101hotel.is

My flight from the U.S. landed in Iceland at 6:00 am local time. I gathered my belongings, walked quickly to the passport windows, fully staffed and with no lines, and within fifteen minutes I had picked up my rental car outside the terminal and was on the highway to Reykjavík, 30 miles away.

For most of the 45-minute drive the sky was black, with sleet blowing sideways across the road, but by the time I reached the outskirts of the city there was a ribbon of fuchsia on the horizon and a delicate glow of light appeared above the city, illuminating the snow covered landscape and the cozy kitchen lights of early rising Icelanders having breakfast before leaving for work.

Arriving at the 101 Hotel in the center of Reykjavík is the perfect ending to the overnight flight, and a perfect beginning to a work week at Iceland’s annual DesignMarch Festival. The 101, named after Reykjavík’s downtown postal code, was Iceland’s first design-driven, upscale boutique hotel when it opened in 2003, quickly becoming popular with visiting film and music celebrities, and the growing number of affluent millennials who have recently discovered Iceland’s stunning scenery and vibrant culinary scene. The 101 Hotel is a member of the prestigious Design Hotels group.

I check in at the reception area near the front door, which, like the entire 38-room property, is a beautiful example of Nordic minimalism. The lovely art objects on the white walls, colorful flowers on the front desk, and the warmth of a wood burning fireplace in the lounge give the first floor area the feel of a private, upscale Icelandic home.

My third floor room is surprisingly, and fortunately, available for early check-in and the heated oak floor in the room and the King bed with a fluffy white quilt cover are, at 6:45 am, the most important amenities I could imagine. In the dawn light, outside the large windows, is Arnarhóll Hill, a city park where a statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, known as Reykjavik’s first settler in the year 874, overlooks the modern Harpa concert hall, and the sea and the mountains beyond.

A few hours later, after washing up in the large, free-standing, glass-enclosed shower, I notice the other beautifully designed amenities in the room including the Electrolux mini-bar, Plexiglass night tables, sleek black work desk and swivel light, SONY DVD, Bose speakers and i-Pod docking station. The square, white ceramic sink and claw-foot bathtub are placed in front of the window in the open-plan bathroom area. The décor of the rooms, and all the interior public areas, is a blend of black, white and grays with, of course, the heated oak floors throughout the property.

The books on the shelf in my room have lots of new art and design titles, as well as Halldor Laxness’ Independent People, a classic novel of Icelandic life which won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize in literature. Sitting in Iceland’s compact and beautiful capital city, with snow-covered Mount Esja on the other side of the bay, seems like perfect place to start chapter one.

The 101 Hotel has a long, glass-roofed bar/restaurant called Kitchen & Wine on the ground floor, serving chef-prepared breakfast items and lunch and dinner menus with locally caught fish, a delicious langoustine soup, Icelandic lamb, salads, burgers and light snacks. On the lower level is a small workout room and mini-spa with steam bath, Jacuzzi and plunge pool. Of course there are also hundreds of outdoor public pools, in Reykjavík and throughout the island, where locals and visitors swim year-round in the warm, naturally flowing geothermal waters that heat the homes, schools, businesses (and fill the swimming pools) of the country.

Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Center , located five minutes walk from 101 Hotel. (photo Iceland Tourism)

Although the exterior of the 101 is a typical, somewhat bland, five-story Icelandic façade, a former office building, the interior of the property is so wonderfully designed, with splashes of color against white walls and black furnishings, with subtle indoor lighting and a quiet elegance, it becomes difficult to get up the momentum to go outside. But, of course, the outside is where Iceland really opens up and sparkles, the 101 Hotel is for when you are ready to go home at night.

Ron Bernthal

Fogo Island Journal: At the edge of a continent, a melding of design and nature

Fogo Island Inn (photo Alex Fradkin)

Fogo Island Journal: At the edge of a continent, a melding of design and nature

“By January it had always been winter.”
― Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

By Ron Bernthal

On brisk winter mornings guests at the Fogo Island Inn take long walks on foot trails that meander along the rocky coast, trails with names like Joe Batt’s Point, Oliver’s Cove, Little Seldom and Brimstone Head. After lunch in the glass enclosed dining room overlooking the Atlantic, afternoons may be spent in ocean-view guestrooms, relaxing in hand-crafted armchairs. A wood stove will keep the room toasty (although electric heat is available), a fierce wind will blow outside, snow will move sideways in blurring white lines. The ocean, a heaving gray mass just beyond the window, will become indistinguishable from the horizon.moonwalk bounce house

In spring the winds will decrease a bit, the snow may stop flying and icebergs will start to appear on the sea, drifting past Fogo Island on their way south to warmer climates as the slowly melting mountains of blue and white ice pass the coastal communities of Newfoundland and Labrador. The seasonal migration down “Iceberg Alley” is enjoyed by year-round residents as much as visitors.

In spring giant icebergs will float quietly past Fogo Island (photo Paddy Barry)

The Fogo Island Inn, a not yet three year-old, a stunning architecturally designed property, is reached by a 45-minute car-ferry from Farewell, itself a small Newfoundland community an hour north of Gander. The Inn is partially raised off the rocky beach on sturdy stilts, from a distance it looks like a huge, white bird about to soar off into the sky. Even visitors who have seen photographs of the building are taken aback when it first comes into view. Compared to the small, wood structures guests pass as they drive to the property from the ferry landing eight miles away – saltbox houses, fish drying stages, waterside storage sheds called stores, small churches — the four-story, ultra-modern Fogo Island Inn is like a mirage on the landscape.

In any other place the presence of a modern architectural gem next to a rural fishing village would be somewhat controversial. (photo Alex Fradkin)

In any other place, at any other time, placing a 43,000 square-foot, multi-million dollar, design-driven, deluxe inn on the beach of a tiny, isolated fishing community, population 700, would be controversial to say the least. And with room rates of $700-$2,000 per night (including all meals and services), it is doubtful that many Fogo Islanders will be spending romantic weekends at the island’s only upscale accommodations. But island residents, skeptical at first, are now enjoying the new revenue and employment opportunities the hotel has brought to the area, and are now proud the project was conceived by an 8th generation Fogo Islander, and designed by a Newfoundland-born architect.

The back story to the opening of the Fogo Island Inn is as interesting as the building’s design. The collapse of the northern cod fishery marked a profound change in the ecological, economic and cultural structure of Atlantic Canada. The cod fishing moratorium in 1992 marked the largest industrial closure in Canadian history, and the results were felt throughout Newfoundland, where the heavily fished continental shelf lay just off shore. Over 35,000 fishermen and plant workers from over 400 coastal communities in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador became unemployed.

Fogo Island, 15 miles long and eight miles wide, was settled by the English and Irish in the early 1700’s. These settlers braved the harsh seas and living conditions for the profits gleaned from cod, and the bounty lasted for more than 250 years. When Newfoundland fishing boats were prevented from hauling in their daily catch of cod the men turned to other species, like crabs, shrimp, char and salmon, but the loss of the cod catch was devastating. Unable to support their families under the strict commercial cod fishing regulations, the population of Fogo Island dwindled from 5,200 to about 2,500 today, many of the men left the island for jobs in the gas and oil fields of western Canada. The 11 small “outport” fishing communities on Fogo Island, including Joe Batt’s Arm, where the Fogo Island Inn is now located, managed to survive despite the much decreased fishing revenue and a short summer tourist season. Unemployment was high, the winter’s always long.

There is vegetation, edible herbs, and colorful moss along the rocky beaches near Joe Batt’s Arm (photo Ron Bernthal)

Zita Cobb, an 8th generation Fogo Islander, left the island to attend college in the 1980′s, eventually becoming the CFO of a high-tech company in Ontario. When the company merged with a big U.S. firm Cobb was able to exercise stock options and retire, becoming a multi-millionaire. Missing her island home, and looking for a way to contribute to Fogo Island’s declining economy, Cobb moved back to Joe Batt’s Arm and founded the philanthropic, family-run Shorefast Foundation in 2003. A “shorefast” is the line and mooring used to attach a traditional cod trap to the shore, and a strong symbol of Fogo Island’s cod fishing heritage. To Zita Cobb it also symbolized the link between the cod moratorium and Fogo Island’s stagnant economy.

Traditional cod trap and its “shorefast” line symbolizes the history of fishing on Fogo Island

After the Foundation was established an idea was developed to create an inn that would represent the culture of the island, and benefit as many islanders as possible. The Fogo Island Inn would be constructed of local materials and Fogo Islanders, many of whom were descendants of the early English and Irish settlers, would be hired to produce locally-crafted furnishings. A well-known Newfoundland chef would be found to serve regional cuisine, and almost a 100 residents would be trained for hospitality work, and encouraged to share their history with tourists who would “come from away.” Zita Cobb even convinced a Newfoundland-born architect, Todd Saunders, who was happily designing buildings on the west coast of Norway (similar climate and terrain), to return to the province and design a structure on Fogo Island that would wow the sophisticated, high-end travelers from Toronto, Boston and New York. Then everyone kept their fingers crossed.

Fast-forward to the present. Todd Saunders’ white, oblong building has attracted worldwide attention. The Inn is a highly insulated steel frame building, the windows have the equivalent rating of triple pane glazing. Rainwater is collected in two cisterns, filtered, and used for toilet and laundry water. Solar panels supply hot water to the in-floor radiant heating. Photos of the Inn, its dining room, duplex suites, and the amazing views have appeared in all of the best architecture, design and travel publications, and the awards have been piling up, including being placed on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2016 hotel Gold List.

Despite, or because of, the Inn’s remote location on the edge of the North American continent moneyed travelers from Toronto, Boston, New York and Europe are flying to Gander or St. John’s, Newfoundland, renting cars and finding their way to Joe Batt’s Arm, where they are assured of an ocean view (all guestrooms face the sea), deluxe accommodations, excellent cuisine, and an opportunity to visit a destination not yet spoiled by fast food outlets, theme parks, stop lights, or traffic. The only obstacles on Fogo Island’s roads are the occasional caribou.

Punts (colorful small work boats) on Fogo Island (photo Barrett and MacKay for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism)

All the furniture used at the Inn is designed by professional Canadian and European designers, and constructed at a small wood shop nearby by local men and women who have experience building their own homes, boats and fishing stages. The fabrics for the chair and pillow covers, quilts, and woven rugs are hand-stitched by the women of Fogo Island, a tradition that dates to the 1700’s when the wife’s and daughters of fishermen would make the gloves, sweaters, hats and clothing for the family. Art gallery space is created within the public areas of the inn, where the work of Newfoundland artists is displayed. The Inn’s dining room, with its double-ceiling windows overlooking the sea, is rated one of the top ten restaurants in Canada by Enroute magazine, and executive chef Murray MacDonald, a Newfoundland native, has been using locally sourced root vegetables, fresh caught fish and seafood, and traditional ingredients like sea buckthorn, spruce tips, caribou moss and dried chanterelles.

Chef Murray MacDonald uses local, organic ingredients for his award-winning cuisine (photo Alex Fradkin)

On the Inn’s second floor the 24-seat cinema, created in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada, is designed with movie theater-style seats, and is a guest favorite. There is also a fully equipped fitness center and conference room. The fourth and top floor includes additional rooms and loft suites, sauna and steam rooms, outdoor hot tubs with views of the ocean, and a roof-deck for summer sunbathing. The Inn will not turn Fogo Island into another Nantucket (no one on the island wants that), but young people who left are now returning, and local shops and cafes are seeing an uptick in year-round business.

Dining room at Fogo Island Inn with view of North Atlantic (photo Alex Fradkin)

For Zita Cobb and others, the grand idea of helping the island’s economy seems to be working. Almost all of the 80 employees at the Inn are Fogo Islanders, now earning salaries that are considerably more than the $20,000 annual average income for island residents. The few local cafes, ice cream shops, music pubs and small island art galleries and museums are all benefiting from the influx of well-heeled Inn guests that arrive every week, year round. Many islanders –painters, quilters, fishermen, shipbuilders, writers — have also signed up to be part of the Community Host Program, and are always available to give Inn guests complimentary island tours, showing them how to fish in the local bays, forage for wild berries and mushrooms, watch boat builders at work, or listen to Newfoundland music in local homes. Roy Dwyer, a former school teacher and fisherman, spent several hours showing a visitor the various communities on the island, including his own home in the quaint village of Tilting.

Fogo Island resident Roy Dwyer in his fishing stage in the community of Tilting (photo Ron Bernthal)

As part of Shorefast’s Fogo Island Arts project architect Todd Saunders also designed four ocean-front studios which are occupied during the day by visiting artists who were accepted into the Foundation’s Artist-in-Residence program. The studios are beautifully designed, self-sustaining, one-room buildings perched on the rocks at the ocean’s edge, complete with solar panels for heating and lighting, mini-kitchens for cooking and small bathrooms with chemically treated toilets. The four studios include the Long Studio (constructed in 2010) and the Tower, Bridge and Squish Studios, completed in 2011.

Artists who apply for the residency come from many countries, and as part of the program they receive accommodations in one of Fogo Island’s fishing communities, a vehicle, and a weekly stipend to offset the costs of materials, shipping and living expenses for periods of one to three months. Most travel expenses are also covered and artists-in-residence must give one public presentation, performance, workshop, or lead a similar event during their residency. Selected artists are invited to present their work in exhibitions at the Fogo Island Gallery. Other Shorefast projects include a micro-lending fund for small businesses on Fogo Island and the nearby Change Islands, various academic residency programs, heritage building preservation initiatives, the New Ocean Ethic, and a retail furniture business, the Fogo Island Shop.

Long Studio, Fogo Island, Todd Saunders architect (photo Ron Bernthal)

Squish Studio, Todd Saunders architect (photo Ron Bernthal)

“When the Canadian singer, Alan Doyle, visited a Fogo Island museum a few years ago he was shown an artifact called a gaff, a fisherman’s wooden-handled tool with a hook on the end of it,” said Paddy Barry, the Inn’s friendly and informative Guest Ambassador. “In April, 1917, four young men including the three Jacobs brothers, walked out on the ice floes off Fogo Island and got stranded, unable to get back to shore when the ice shifted. They were terrified, knowing that their wives and family would never know what had happened to them. On the gaff they had with them they carved their names and dates, along with the desperate words, “laying down to perish,” and sent it adrift, hoping it would eventually wash ashore and be found by the families, which did happen several months later, when it was a found on a nearby island and returned to Fogo Island.” This is a true, often-told story, and the song that Alan Doyle wrote following his visit, called

Laying Down to Perish

was recorded in 2014. The song should be downloaded onto every visitor’s mobile phone before they arrive on the island, and listened to as they walk the trails of the island. It is evocative of Fogo Island’s history and the resilience of its people, living on the edge of a continent.

Jacobs gaff on Fogo Island, the inspiration behind Alan Doyle’s song “Laying Down to Perish”

The feature film “Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island,” is an award-winning, one-hour film by David Craig and Katherine Knight which documents the story behind the design and construction of the Fogo Island Inn, as told by Zita Cobb and Todd Saunders. Directed by Katherine Knight and Marcia Connolly, it has been presented at various U.S. and international film festivals, including the 2015 Architecture and Design Film Festival in New York City.

Info to Go:
Fogo Island Inn
Newfound and Labrador Tourism

Norwegian: Premium class offers best of both worlds — price and comfort

Norwegian 787-8 Dreamliner (photo courtesy Norwegian)

 

By Ron Bernthal

 

The United Nations has listed Norway as the number one country on the organization’s 2015 Human Development Report. Combining life expectancy, education and income per capita, Norway ranks first in the world for the 12th straight year. Add in personal freedom and health and Norway sits at the top of the 2015 Prosperity Index for the seventh year in a row.

Norwegian started operations in 1993, flying domestically along Norway’s rugged west coast and, coincidently, was listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange in 2003, just as Norway began to occupy its top place on the UN list of best countries. Privately owned Norwegian is quite reflective of its country of origin. The mostly Norwegian-born flight crew are friendly and helpful. The Nordic-influenced food served on Norwegian is as fresh and delicious as Oslo’s top restaurants.  The carrier’s fleet of new, Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft helped Norwegian rank as the most fuel efficient airliner in the aerospace industry for 2015, Norway is one of the “greenest” countries in the world in terms of sustainability, and Norwegian’s tail fins are painted with pictures of Nordic heroes (including Swedes, Danes, and Finns) who “have pushed the boundaries, challenged established norms and inspired others,” much like the Norwegian explorers, athletes, writers and artists Roald Amundsen, Sonja Henie, Thor Heyerdahl, Henrik Ibsen, Edvard Munch and Gustav Vigeland.

Norwegian tail fin with Nordic heroine Sigrid Undset, a Norwegian novelist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928.

A recent flight in Premium class on Norwegian’s non-stop service from New York (JFK) to Oslo (OSL) began with a light buffet dinner in the Korean Air lounge, where several international carriers lease space for their departing business class passengers. The lounge, close to Norwegian’s Gate 4 at JFK’s Terminal 1, is quite large with several food stations, bar service, complimentary WiFi, computers and printers, and private shower rooms.

After tracking boarding times on the lounge departure screen I made my way to the gate and boarded the aircraft at 9:20 pm through Norwegian’s dedicated Premium lane.  The 32 grey, leather Premium seats with the red Norwegian head cloths were arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration and, immediately after stowing my gear in the extra-large overheads I was offered a choice of Champagne, juice or water.  The seats on the aircraft looked and felt brand new, the average age of a Norwegian aircraft is only four years, the Dreamliner windows were devoid of the traditional pull-down shades, little buttons under each window control shading, and Norwegian’s ambient cabin lighting, called Sky Interior, is a relaxing blue and purple, similar to Virgin America’s phased mood lighting. Even the bathrooms on the aircraft had a calming atmosphere, with blue ambient lighting, little colored lights on the sink faucet, and an extremely quiet toilet flush.

Norwegian’s “Sky Interior” cabin lighting in economy class on the Dreamliner (photo courtesy Norwegian)

The onboard dinner that evening was cold pasta and olive salad, baked chicken with spinach and eggplant, dinner rolls and chocolate cake, along with a selection of wines and spirits. New York strip steak, curry prawns and a vegetarian dish was offered on the return flight. Before landing a breakfast was served consisting of a warm bagel with cream cheese and smoked Norwegian salmon, fruit and juice and coffee.  Other flights may include fruit salad, natural yoghurt, honey, muesli and pain au chocolat.  All meals are served in efficient boxes made of re-cycled cardboard, with plates and cutlery inside. It may have been initially disappointing not have a starched table cloth and assorted chinaware placed over the tray table, but with the low prices Norwegian charges for its Premium fares, it was understandable that there had to be some sacrifice.  The cuisine itself was as nicely prepared and tasty as most other airline business class meals.   Economy fares are so low that passengers are more than willing to pay extra for food, pre-ordered before boarding.

Premium seats on Dreamliner aircraft (photo courtesy Norwegian)

The entertainment system in Norwegian’s long-haul Premium class is viewed on a large touch-screen that folds out of the armrest (live TV and free WiFi is offered on flights within Europe), and with a 46” pitch, 19” width seat, and an almost full recline, it was quite easy to get a few hours’ sleep during the night. The thick, blue duvet provided by the flight attendant didn’t hurt either. Norwegian’s on-time performance is usually in the high 80%’s (it was recently eight best out of 50 airlines), on my flight to Oslo wheels were up at 10:25 pm, 25 minutes behind schedule due to departure traffic at JFK, but arrival at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport was at 10:55 am the next morning, five minutes early.

Boarding Norwegian flight at Oslo Airport (photo courtesy Oslo Airport)

In 2015 Norwegian was voted Europe’s Leading Low-Cost Airline at the World Travel Awards, and Best European Low-Cost Airline from Skytrax World Airline Awards.  In Economy class the price difference between Norwegian and other carriers flying the same route is several hundred dollars.  For Premium business class the difference is extraordinary, anywhere from $600 to $4,500 round-trip compared to other airlines flying the same route. And, of course, on most days Norwegian is the only carrier flying non-stop from several American cities (New York, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Oakland, Los Angeles) to Bergen on Norway’s West Coast, and/or Oslo, Norway’s capital and largest city. The relatively low cost Premium class fares, combined with its high degree of comfort, has not gone unnoticed by budget-conscious corporate travel managers. “We started out as a low-cost carrier for tourists, but 15% of our passengers are now business travelers, and the number is growing,” said Bjorn Kjos, founding co-partner and current CEO of Norwegian.

In April 2017 the new Oslo Airport will be finished. This shows how the inside of Pier North will look in 2017. Rendering Nordic Office of Architecture © Oslo Airport

Norwegian will soon offer 34 non-stop routes from the U.S. (including Las Vegas, San Juan, Baltimore/Washington) to Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, London, and to the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

 

Contact:

Norwegian

www.norwegian.com