LA architecture “disappointing” compared to San Francisco, Seattle: Robert Sonnenblick [Video]

by | Jul 21, 2019 | Experts

Limited and select service hotels is where the real profitability and future of the hospitality industry is, says LA real estate veteran Robert Sonnenblick of Sonnenblick Development

Robert Sonnenblick lives and breathes LA. This Wharton graduate has more than 30 years of experience in various aspects of real estate and real estate finance in the region. 

Prior to forming Sonnenblick Development, he was the senior partner in a Los Angeles-based real estate development firm (Sonnenblick Del Rio Development) which specialized in public-private partnerships throughout the LA basin. 

On the sidelines of TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR Los Angeles, Sonnenblick spoke to TOPHOTELNEWS on the influx of foreign-funded construction in LA, how mass transit from LAX airport is poised to boost tourism, and how limited-service hotels is where the most profitability is.

“Dramatic” influx of foreign capital in LA 

Sonnenblick: The change has been dramatic especially in the last four or five years. And it’s interesting: it’s all been foreign capital, largely from China and a little bit from India as well. Whereas historically, everything that you see built has been locals doing it. That’s totally changed in the last four years. 

LA skyline deserves awesome architecture like San Francisco & Seattle

Sonnenblick: I am a huge fan of Los Angeles, you know that, but I must tell you very honestly: I’m disappointed in our architecture. If you look at the skyline, you mentioned San Francisco, for example, San Francisco, the city mandates that you must — you must — do something interesting with your building. No more regular rectangles, that just doesn’t work. They won’t approve your project if you do that. 

Here, we just do regular, everyday, blase – unfortunately – buildings and when you look at the skyline, although it’s a large and successful skyline, architecturally, very honestly, compared to cities like Seattle, like San Francisco, we are trailing very badly. And that’s very unfortunate because we’ve got an opportunity to really make a difference — and we’re not. 

LAX mass transit will further boost tourism

Sonnenblick: At LAX, there’s $8 billion worth of new construction going on between the rental car facility and the monorail and things like that. But there’s one other key thing that leads me to be very optimistic about the future. 

For the first time in a hundred years, they are tying LAX in to mass transit. So that instead of somebody having to take a taxi or Uber down there, you can now, or you will be soon, able to just get on mass transit and go to anywhere else in the city. I think the lack of that has really been holding us back for many decades so this is good news. LAX is one of the really, or the future of LAX, is one of the really good points of this city. 

Limited-service hotels is where the most profitability is

Sonnenblick: For the first 25 years of my career in the hospitality business, all we focused on were high-end, four-star luxury hotels. My partners and I built the Loews Hotel at the beach here in Santa Monica, a four-star hotel. But to be honest with you, the real money in our business, and again, I discovered this very late, better late than never, but I discovered it late, when you build select service and limited service, that’s where the real profitability of the industry is. 

And as a result, if you look at the last 10 years, probably 95% of the new hotels that have been built across the United States, are limited service and select service. And again, being honest, I discovered that too late. We’re into it now, I wish I had discovered this 15 years ago. But that’s where the real profitability, and future of the industry is. 

Thoughts on the TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR

Sonnenblick: Oh, I think this is fantastic. It gives everybody a chance to really network. And it’s not like it’s all developers — it’s developers and architects and brokers and contractors and things like that. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to get together and just talk. And not just people from L.A., even though this conference is L.A.-based, it’s people from all over the country and even the world. It’s fun to meet people and I enjoy that very much.

Robert Sonnenblick was a delegate at TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR Los Angeles 2019. To attend, address or sponsor our boutique hospitality networking events around the world, contact TOPHOTELPROJECTS Head of Global Events & Conferences Kayley van der Velde.

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