Amsterdam-Noord Journal: New Metro Line Spurs Revitalization of Northern Neighborhoods

New North/South Metro Station in Amsterdam Noord (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

by Ron Bernthal

Amsterdam is experiencing a population boom these days because of the city’s attraction as an über progressive urban hub in the European knowledge economy. According to the Amsterdam City Council, as many as 150,000 people are expected to migrate into the city between now and 2040.

Central Amsterdam is already busting at the seams due to its tight geographic footprint around the city’s famous canals, especially in the last decade as global tourism has tremendously increased the number of overseas visitors to its central neighborhoods. In order for Amsterdam to physically expand, and do so intelligently, the Amsterdam City Council developed the comprehensive new Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 Master Plan, integrating innovative urban design and neighborhood revitalization strategies, smart technology systems, and more advanced mobility options for residents and visitors, much like Gӧteborg, Sweden, and other European cities are doing.

Canal in Central Amsterdam (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

As part of its plan to create a new “Metropolitan Amsterdam” the city is populating huge swaths of post-industrial riverfront landscape in its outlying neighborhoods, including the area called Amsterdam Noord, located north of the River IJ. The EYE Filmmuseum, opened in 2012, and the three-story, transparent Kraanspoor office building are part of the revitalization, both built on the site of the once decrepit former ship building yard called NDSM Wharf.

In 1937, the NSM, forerunner of NDSM, was the largest shipbuilding company in the world, building tankers as well as huge passenger ships. Later the company merged the Dutch shipbuilders of NDM, becoming NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij). Utilizing the large NDSM Wharf the company built cargo ships, bulk carriers and war ships for the Dutch navy.

Shortage of new orders caused NDSM to finally stop building ships in 1978, but the company continued repairing ships until around 1984, when the era of Dutch shipbuilding came to an end. The empty buildings left to waste at NDSM’s East Wharf were soon filled with squatters, often craftsmen, artists and their families and friends who settled in and united, naming themselves Kinetisch Noord. In Amsterdam, of course, the politics and sensibilities are somewhat different than the rest of the world, and the Amsterdam City Council actually liked the idea of this new ‘broedplaats’ which translates somewhat into “an innovative breeding space for new ideas.” The group now receives subsidies from the City Council to further develop the area an make good use of the large boathouse and the huge outside terrain and ramps.

Cafe Noordlicht on the River IJ in Amsterdam-Noord

This area, including many parts of Amsterdam-Noord that were not originally part of the NDSM Wharf site, is attracting artist studios, galleries and pop-up festivals, as well as major arts and media companies, such as MTV Europe. The modern 17-story A’DAM Tower hotel, formerly the old Shell Oil headquarters building, towers above the terrain, offering a revolving rooftop restaurant with a stunning, 360-degree view of the river and city skyline. On streets leading to the NDSM site there are new, colorful buildings testifying to the area’s recent creative renaissance. A free pedestrian/bicycle ferry, called the ‘Buiksloterweg‘ runs every few minutes to the NDSM site from the city’s Central Station just across the river, taking about ten minutes to make the crossing.

The EYE Filmmuseum is the only film museum in the Netherlands, offering multi-cinema’s, educational workshops and lectures. It opened along the River IJ in Amsterdam Noord in 2012. (photo: EYE Filmmuseum)

Adding to the numerous new residential, retail and office development projects in Amsterdam-Noord, Dutch authorities have recently opened the new Noord/Zuid (North-South) Metro line that extends almost six miles, connecting Amsterdam-Noord to Central Amsterdam, running under the River IJ that is making life easier, and the commute shorter, for thousands of residents in the northern neighborhoods. “It’s a major step towards the future of the city,” said Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema after the new, $5.3 billion Noord/Zuid Metro line opened this summer.

(photo: Ron Bernthal)

Amsterdammers and tourists can now ride the entire new route six mile route from Station Noord to Europaplein in just 15 minutes, although it took $5.3 billion and almost 22 years after the project began, to make this happen.  Still, the seven new metro stations along the route -   Station Noord, Station Noorderpark, Centraal Station, Station Rokin, Station Vijzelgracht, Station De Pijp, and Station Europaplein – all designed by the Dutch architecture firm Benthem Crouwel, have been so beautifully and efficiently created that the cost and time devoted to the project has almost been forgiven. The Dutch love their home grown architects — Rem Koolhaas, Ben van Berkel, Rene van Zuuk, Wiel Arets and Willem Jan Neutelings have all helped make modern Dutch architecture a much envied global phenomenon, and having the new Metro line designed primarily by a Dutch firm was of course well received.

Art work at one of the new metro stations on the North/South Line. (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

Benthem Crouwel designed two stations above ground, and five below, saying that they created the stations as a “new public layer” for the city, mirroring the canals and streets that cross the city at surface level. Station entrances have been left uncovered, with escalators leading directly to entrance halls that in turn have direct views of the track to create a sense of continuous public space. All the stations have been designed to be distinctive, but all are unified by plans that make it as easy and fast as possible to travel from street level to train carriage.

Creative spirit in Amsterdam-Noord can be seen on building facades (photo: Ron Bernthal)

Clearly, a major urban project like tunneling a new urban metro line 75 feet deep in Amsterdam’s boggy soil, and underneath the city’s River IJ, provided plenty of construction challenges. When the city was founded in 1300 it was on reclaimed land, and houses had to be built on stilts. Advances in boring technology made in the past few decades made tunneling deep under the city without disturbing the unstable soil possible, but the Metro line construction still left historic brick houses in some city center neighborhoods leaning at awkward angles, and issues with water lines and electric cables were often stubborn obstacles. During the digging operations construction workers were constantly finding historic artifacts buried in the soil under city streets, many of them hundreds of years old.  Fortunately, local historians were able to identify and save most of the best preserved items and 700,000 of them are now displayed in a large glass case between the escalators at the new Station Rokin.

Historic artifacts found during construction of Amsterdam’s new Metro are displayed in a large glass case set between the elevators at Rokin Station (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

Except for small ferries and a few crowded roadways, the district of Amsterdam Noord (North) was cut off from the rest of the city by the River IJ, but that changed forever after the shiny, new trains on the Noord-Suid Metro line started running under the river to connect Amsterdam-Noord with the city’s central business district, including the RAI Convention Center, the city’s largest meeting venue. Now Noord commuters, students and shoppers can have easy and fast access to the city center and points south. Even the small, historic fishing villages like Holysloot and Ransdorp, both established in the 12th-century, and the harbor at Nieuwendam, which enjoyed a 16th-century Golden Age before Amsterdam did by transporting goods to France, are now more accessible to tourists.

(photo: Joanna Tricorache)

Bikers can now better explore the area’s parks and sport complexes, and visit the historic dykes of Nieuwendammerdijk, Schellingwouderdijk, Durgerdammerdijk and Buiksloterdijk. The shopping has improved in Noord as well, with local butchers and bakers, outdoor markets, flea markets, a good-sized shopping center called Boven ’t Y on Buikslotermeerplein, and a large vintage and industrial design furniture store. Even before the new metro line appeared there was a variety of lovely restaurants and bars, such as the Noorderlicht Café, IJkantine, Pllek, Hannekes Boom, De Ceuvel and Hotel de Goudfazant, all of which are now seeing increases in evening and weekend customers.

Colorful buildings in Amsterdam-Noord are representative of the district’s new, creative environment (photo: Ron Bernthal)

With the new Metro now making Amsterdam-Noord as close to the city center as the popular canal neighborhoods further south, the revitalization of Amsterdam’s northern communities will continue in the decades ahead, with new mixed-use projects, schools, seaside cafes, and design-friendly residential housing, as well as restoration efforts in the traditional 1920’s-era Amsterdam School-style tuindorpen (garden villages).  It is a big step forward for Amsterdam’s Master Plan 2040.

Newport Beach Journal: Local Developer Blends SoCal with New England to Achieve a Design and Culinary Gem

The glass-enclosed open kitchen at The Mayors Table Pacific Pub & Kitchen at the Lido House, a new hotel in Newport Beach, CA (photo Joanna Tricorache)

By Ron Bernthal

Located on the site of the old Newport Beach City Hall, on Balboa Peninsula, Lido House is one of southern California’s newest and most modern hotels. Opened in May, 2018, the Orange County hotel property, and its signature dining venue, The Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub & Kitchen, has been buzzing with local residents, out-of-town visitors and LA celebrities during its first summer.

The Duffy Boat Salad at The Mayors Table (photo Lido House)

A companion and I visited the restaurant and toured the hotel during a recent visit to Newport Beach, about a one-hour drive south of downtown Los Angeles. The restaurant focuses, of course, on fish and seafood, offering not only fresh salmon, halibut and scallops, but other delicious menu items like Thai-seasoned lobster roll with black bread, Hinoki-scented black cod, Pacific seafood chowder, steaks, and a popular Duffy Boat Salad with local baby greens, blackberry and goat cheese preserve, candied almonds, and ice wine vinaigrette. The salad is named after Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, the current mayor of Newport Beach as well an inventor and longtime owner of the Duffy Electric Boat company that bears his name, known for the ubiquitous “Duffy” electric boats that visitors can rent to explore the sun-splashed Newport Bay and Newport Beach Harbor.

The Mayors Table (photo Joanna Tricorache)

The Mayor’s Table, with its tastefully designed furnishings, colorful artwork by local painters, a large bar serving eclectic cocktails, and its beautiful, glass-enclosed “open” kitchen, has become a destination in its own right, and the synergy that exists between the restaurant and the design-friendly, 130-room Lido House hotel and cottages surrounding the restaurant makes for an enjoyable and unique hospitality experience.

Lido House lobby (photo Lido House)

Lido House developer and Newport Beach resident and entrepreneur, Bob Olson, turned the old city hall site into a deluxe boutique hotel. Although Orange County is now awash with new hotels (Three openings in 2018 — Hampton Inn & Suites in Irvine, Hilton Huntington Beach, Lido House — three openings in 2017; four new hotels in 2016; and nine hotels under construction), Lido House has seemed to hit the right nerve, partially because of its culinary reviews and innovative design, but also because Mr. Olson, who lives nearby on Balboa Island, was determined to include community input and support in his original proposal to develop the site.

Lido House project rendering courtesy R.D. Olson Construction

“The ‘Newport nautical’ style of the hotel is described as Cape Cod, with a Newport Beach twist, and it really resonates with guests and residents,” Olson said during the hotel’s opening ceremonies in May. “Our whole concept here is, ‘We’re locals, we’re for locals, we’re about locals, and we want our hotel guests to feel as if they’re locals as well, and to feel like a part of our community.”

The Mermaid, Champagne and Octopus three-story mural on a wall of the hotel attracts a lot of attention (photo Joanna Tricorache; artwork by Rick Rietveld)

Newport Beach, along with Lido Isle, a large recreational harbor, and nearby Balboa Peninsula, has a style similar to the architecture of coastal New England. In Newport Beach many homes and beach houses line inland waterways and feature a Cape Cod aesthetic, but on the sun-splashed California coast, with its balmy climate and year-round outdoor vibe, Newport Beach and the other seaside towns from Los Angeles down to San Diego, have expanded their home environment to include large windows, indoor/outdoor patios and modern, art-filled interiors.

The Topside rooftop deck and bar offers views of Newport Beach and the Pacific Ocean (photo Lido House)

Many of the hotel’s design features, including most of the artwork, comes from artists and crafts people from Newport Beach and the surrounding communities. The Cape Cod design theme means dark roof shingles and gray clapboard siding, fireplaces inside and out, and a lighthouse tower in one corner. A lovely rooftop lounge and bar, called Topside, offers comfortable furnishings and views of the ocean. In the lobby are photos of Newport Beach’s former celebrity resident John Wayne, and blueprints for Wayne’s 136-foot yacht, Wild Goose, are displayed in the hotel’s lobby. There are also two large “landmark” ficus trees on the front lawn that have remained on the site since its city hall days, and the developer worked hard to include them in the final design.

King guest room at the Lido House (photo Lido House)

In addition to the hotel’s 130 guestrooms, there is a presidential suite, several executive suites, and five exquisite and pricey custom-designed, three-story cottages. Each cottage is 1,300 square-feet and includes a rooftop patio, personal barbecue and fireplace. Five local designers (Grace Blu Designs, Mehditash Design, Brooke Wagner Design, Erica Bryen Design and Blackband Design) were hired to give each cottage a separate identity, and all overlook some of the private hotel spaces, including a saltwater swimming pool with private cabanas and an English garden.

View of Lido House swimming pool and cabanas (photo Lido House)

Lido House, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, is located within walking distance of the Lido Marina Village shopping and dining district and nearby beaches.

Lido House

Review: Kimpton La Peer Hotel, Los Angeles

Bar at Kimpton La Peer Hotel, Los Angeles (photo Joanna Tricorache)

 By Ron Bernthal

I have always liked the Kimpton brand when it comes to urban boutique hotels, and the new Kimpton La Peer Los Angeles property, opened in 2018 in West Hollywood’s Design District, did not disappoint.

Interior design and artwork (photo Laure Joliet)

For this property Kimpton partnered  with  award-winning,  Icelandic-born  interior designer  Gulla  Jónsdóttir  as  lead  creative  designer. Jónsdóttir studied architecture in Los Angeles and runs a noted design studio in the city.  She said about her work at La Peer,  “With  this  project, we’re taking design  cues  from  our  neighbors in West Hollywood, from  fashion people to  high-end  furniture designers, artists and  poets.”   This is a design-centric hotel that evokes the trendiness of the neighborhood (on La Peer Street, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue) as well the Art Deco style of 1930’s LA.  The hotel offers 105 guest  rooms, a  4,000 square-foot rooftop  terrace, indoor  meeting  and  event  facilities, a poolside  fitness  center  and  indoor  and  outdoor  dining  and  lounge  spaces.

La Peer Hotel King Room (photo Laure Joliet)

My room, with its Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” décor, colored in charcoal greys, beige and black, did not have a great view, but the wood desk, framed wide-screen TV, plush bedding and large glass-enclosed shower made up for the non-view.  On a shower shelf were large plastic bottles of toiletries from Atelier Bloem, including oolong tea shampoo, geranium conditioner, and a mandarin & citrus body wash with eucalyptus, lemon, white flower and sandalwood, fragrances inspired by the floral mosaic of Amsterdam’s floating flower market the Bloemenmarkt.

The hotel’s small pool, accented by lush landscaping and handcrafted lanterns, is outside under the warm California sun, and like many outdoor spaces in LA, it merges easily with the indoor environment of the lobby lounge and bar. Custom  designs  are evident in the lobby with curved  brass  ceiling  details,  a  leather  cocoon  wall,  and  six-foot  round  light  sconces  that  emit  a cozy glow  in  the  lounge.  The  patio  bar  and  pool  lounge  are quiet,  and exude  a casual  European  atmosphere, a  nice vertical garden wall is adjacent to the pool.

La Peer Hotel Swimming Pool (photo Joanna Tricorache)

Although there a few works of art in the guest rooms, a gold Jeff Koons balloon rabbit sits on every bedside table, site-specific works by Los Angeles artists Tanya Aguiniga, Guerin Swing, Elena Manferdini and Retna are scattered throughout the property and are evocative of the city.

Within walking distance (yes, walking in LA!) is a collection of interesting boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, bars, outdoor cafes, and movie studios. Newer venues in the area, a 10-15 drive from the hotel, include the LA outpost of the bar/restaurant Employees Only, often voted one of the best bars in the world; the speakeasy Bathtub Gin, tucked away behind a coffee bar; and a branch of the acclaimed Milk Bar, the award winning bakery from chef/owner Christina Tosi, soon to be located on Melrose. The La Peer is presently the only upscale hotel in the Design District, and despite its somewhat pricy room rates and museum quality artwork, the staff is friendly and casual, and the ambiance is definitely unpretentious

Kimpton La Peer’s Art-Filled Interior (photo Laure Joliet)

Adding to the mix of eclectic art and design in the public areas the hotel’s dining venue, a trattoria called Viale dei Romani, is where noted chef Casey Lane overseas the breakfast, lunch and dinner service. Although a delicious continental buffet breakfast is mainly for hotel guests, locals will come by for the chef’s wood fired seafood and house-made pastas offered at lunch and dinner. And, like at all Kimpton properties, the La Peer offers guests complimentary wine during cocktail hour


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.

Front view of Diplomat Beach Resort, west-facing rooms overlooking Intracoastal Waterway across the street from hotel. (photo Ron Bernthal)



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.

Front desk of Diplomat Beach Resort, with changing video screens behind front desk. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

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.

Japanese cuisine at Monkitail, named Best Hotel Restaurant in 2017 by USA Today. (Photo courtesy Diplomat Beach Resort)

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.

Pool and cabana’s near beachfront (photo Ron Bernthal)

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.

Sammy Davis Jr., at Diplomat Resort, Hollywood. (Historic photo courtesy Diplomat Beach Resort)

Tony Bennett and Lena Horne performing at Diplomat Resort, 1960′s (Historic photo courtesy Diplomat Beach Resort)

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.

Moon at sunset (photo Ron Bernthal)

The Diplomat is within a 10-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and 30 minutes from Miami International Airport.

Diplomat Beach Resort

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 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 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.





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)


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

A new coffee house as recently opened for locals and visitors to Griffintown: Café Chez l’Éditeur has opened up on Notre-Dame West near de la Montagne. The coffee shop is billed as a “café littéraire”, and if you’re a fan of books and coffee rolled into one, this is far better than a Starbucks inside a giant chain bookstore, it’s actually operated and owned by Québécois publishing house Québec Amérique, in conjunction with communications firm Roy & Turner.

Québec Amérique has already operated a café for around a year and a half on St-Hubert Street in Villeray, connected to its headquarters, and the Griffintown edition is its first expansion. With coffee options ranging from canned cold brew and oat milk options, Chez l’Éditeur is in a nice setting tucked away on the second floor, perfect for reading or working with a laptop using the free WiFi. Light breakfasts and sandwiches are also on the menu at very reasonable prices, mostly under $7CDN.

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.


For information on special events and 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.


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

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