Evan Williams builds and launches R Hotel in Kingston

Observer writer

Sunday, January 13, 2019

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Leading local architect Evan Williams has completed his 10-year odyssey to build an extended-stay hotel.

The 48-room hotel is called the R Hotel and is located on Kingston's Renfrew Road. The 57,000 square foot hotel sits on 13,000 square feet and came in at a cost of US$6.5 million.

Speaking with Jamaica Observer Williams said: “I had a vision to provide a hotel service to business travellers coming to Kingston. Most hotels in Jamaica are marketed to the resort vacationer or holiday goer with the aim of enjoying this beautiful country.

“There was a need for business travellers, particularly with Kingston being the largest English–speaking city in the Caribbean. There was no real facility for business people coming to Jamaica. More often than not they would have to pay huge rates for hotels offering many facilities that the business traveller just doesn't need. So I said, let us find a facility that gives the business traveller an option.”

Of the 48 rooms, 32 of them have kitchen facilities and each room has video conferencing, with the visitor able to have a 12-member conference from the TV screen in their room.

Before embarking on the project, Williams did extensive homework and research. He discovered that there are some 750,000 extended — stay rooms in North America but that there were no such extended — stay rooms in Jamaica.

He explained the concept is to sell a room for what one would pay for an apartment in town, in terms of square footage. There is a condition that once one buys that room it has to be leased back to Evan Williams' management company so he in turn can rent it as a hotel room.

The units all come furnished to a high standard.

“I am able to generate a rate of return on a room that is based on occupancy that I generate, for example, at 60 per cent occupancy the unit does not have to be sold to get a return on investment (ROI). What determines success is the occupancy.

“A standard hotel room may generate a return of between 8 to 14 per cent per annun based on occupancy. I want to maintain control over the management of the rooms,” Williams told Sunday Finance.

There are four categories of rooms, namely:

US$135,000 — a standard guest room (a little under 400 square feet)

US$150,000 — a penthouse with balcony

US$165,000 — standard room with kitchenette

US$330,000 — two bedroom duplex

There are add-on costs of between US$4000 to US$10,000 for the furniture. The rooms also incur an annual maintenance cost which ranges from US$250 per month to as high as US$1000 a month (for the duplex).

This charming hotel has a gym, art gallery, laundry facilities, two parking floors, conference room, 46 security cameras and Redbones bar and restaurant resides on the eighth floor which happens to be the top floor. Redbones now boasts a pool and a space for shows to entertain diners.

Redbones will be managed by Williams' able daughter Enola who did a fine job at RedBone's previous location.

Guests will not be able to charge their meals to the room. They must pay like a regular patron who dines at a restaurant.

Evan Williams' architecture firm, Design Collaborative, which has been in business for almost 50 years will be housed on the compound of the R Hotel.

Williams enjoys a reputation as being one of Jamaica's most visionary architects. He has worked on a number of major hotel projects including Couples, Sandals, The Jamaica Pegasus, Round Hill and Half Moon.

“It took many years to develop the R Hotel mainly because of the pre-existing density and zoning rules. The government wouldn't allow more than 40 habitable rooms per acre. That rule was silly because with sewage you would have to increase the density.

“Fortunately the Government increased the density to 250 habitable rooms per acre. You can now see the proliferation of high-rise buildings in Jamaica which is very good and makes good use of existing space,” said Williams.

The minimum stay at the R Hotel is three nights. Operationally the rule of thumb is 1.5 to two employees per room, thus a 200 –room hotel would have in excess of 400 employees. With 48 rooms, the R Hotel has a staff complement of just 30 employees.

“We identified the skills and personnel needed and this hotel does not require more than 30 staff members.

“Our rack rate is less than one would pay for a basic hotel. For most of the hotels in Kingston one is paying US$100 more per night per room than they would have to pay at the R Hotel. We work out to be around a US$130 to US$140 per night and you have a 5-star room. Mind you, we don't provide all the amenities that you get at a regular hotel.”

The manager of the R Hotel is Alex Pike. The R Hotel has four shareholders with the two leading ones being Josef Bogdanovich (CEO of Downsound Entertainment) and Evan Williams. The other minor shareholders are Donal O' Shaaughnessy (formerly of Digicel) and Errol Evans (contractor).

The R Hotel will be open for business later next month with a grand opening scheduled for the middle of March.

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