By Ron Bernthal
The view from my 21st floor balcony is nothing short of spectacular. The winter sun rises over the ocean’s horizon with a calming, but shattering brightness. Fishing boats move southward towards Miami, hulls filled with fresh grouper, sea bass and snapper. In a few hours the sun will move directly overhead, the ocean will turn from grey to blue, and the ever-present sea breeze will feel sultry to the sunbathers and swimmers on the beach far below. By sunset the sky is streaked with fuchsia and departing cruise ships heading to Grand Bahama ply the edge of the Atlantic, deck lights glowing like hundreds of pale yellow discs.
Fresh off a $100 million transformation, the 36-story Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, offers 1,000 guestrooms and suites, 10 different dining venues, two pools, 26 poolside cabanas, a large spa and fitness center, and 209,000 square-feet of meetings and event space in the adjacent Convention Center, the largest hotel convention space in South Florida.
One would think that such a large convention-style property would be too business-like for the leisure visitor, but it’s just the opposite. With a spacious, live foliage-filled lobby, easy access to the pools, beach area and nearby Intracoastal Waterway, it seems like the adjacent Convention Center is, emotionally, a world away, yet physically just steps away if an exhibition or meeting is part your agenda.
Each dining venue within the hotel creates its own distinct space and décor, from noted chef Michael Schulson’s award-winning, Japanese-inspired Monkitail and its hidden Nokku bar Karaoke lounge to celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s Point Royal, a coastal American restaurant and raw bar.
Executive chef Nicolay Adinaguev’s luxury boutique steak restaurant Diplomat Prime, the poolside/beachfront Playa, Counterpoint’s morning pastries, Canteen convenience food market, and The Landing’s Bristol Burgers provide additional dining venues. Guests can recharge at the resort’s newly renovated 24-hour fitness center, and at the full-service, 24 hour, 14,000 square-foot Diplomat Spa + Wellness area overlooking the Atlantic.
Other recreational hotel amenities include jet skiing, ocean kayaking, paddleboard rentals, and a new Dip + Slide water play area. There are off-site lighted tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course managed by Troon Golf, and The Marina at Diplomat Landing, a secure docking space for yachts and mega-yachts.
The current Diplomat Resort is a relatively new building (2002), the former Diplomat Hotel opened on the same site in 1958, as a 750-room property that became a celebrity destination in the years to follow. The 1960’s were the former hotel’s prime years, starting with Lawrence Welk filming his first TV shows from Florida at the hotel in 1962, and continuing through the decade with visits from Sen. Robert Kennedy and family, and Arthur Godfrey in 1965; Judy Garland played the hotel’s Café Crystal in 1966; Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli performed here in 1967.
The property closed in 1983 for a $20 million renovation, reopening in 1984 with Ronald Reagan addressing the International Longshoremen’s Association. Bob Hope performed at the hotel’s 1984 New Year’s Eve event. During the late 1980’s the Diplomat struggled financially and closed for good in 1991. The property was imploded in 1998, and under new ownership the Diplomat was redesigned and opened in stages in the early 2000’s becoming the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in 2002. The hotel was acquired in 2014 by the Thayer Lodging Group, and joined Curio – A Collection by Hilton brand that year as well, at the same time announcing the $100 million property enhancement project, which was completed in 2017.
My room, like half the rooms in the hotel, features an unobstructed view of the ocean, the others face westward, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. All guestrooms have luxurious, beachy, midcentury-style furnishings, with hand tufted rugs and white bedding backed by driftwood headboards and nautical touches. The design theme for the east-facing rooms is Sunrise, with modern, vibrant earthy tones that, as the property describes, “provide a soothing, calm atmosphere accented with blue ocean colors.” Room amenities include a spacious, granite and marble appointed bathroom with glass-enclosed shower; Bose CD player/radio; high-speed Internet connection (throughout the hotel), and in-room fridge.
The Diplomat is within a 10-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and 30 minutes from Miami International Airport.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hoppy 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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Accor Barcelona Pullman Skipper
Av. del Litoral 10
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
(Hotel photos courtesy Design Hotels™ )
101 Hotel, Reykjavik
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.
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.