Columbia’s newest hotel — Aloft — is unlike anything seen in the Capital City. It’s a boutique hotel with features you might not find at your average hotel.
“When we were looking to develop the property, I knew I wanted to build a boutique hotel,” said co-owner and designer Raj Champaneri. “This is something new to Columbia, the first of its kind.”
Chamapaneri said the process started two years ago, when plans were being developed. He teamed with his brother AJ, who handled the construction, and Courtesy Management from Orangeburg.
“It was a tight site, so we had to get creative on how to fit the building here,” Champaneri said. “The city was very workable with us, and we were able to get the building put in. We used Mashburn as the builder, because they are in Columbia and have the ability to manage this type of construction. I like going with a local group, and they did a great job.”
The 70,000-square-foot hotel is at the corner of Lady and Lincoln streets and sits in front of the city-owned Washington Street garage. Champaneri said that he faced some challenges with traffic and dealing with downtown but that the city has been supportive of his efforts.
Aloft, a unit of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., also has properties in Charleston and Greenville. Champaneri said the Vista hotel cost between $17.5 million and $18 million.
“This concept is a perfect fit for the Vista, this is an artistic district,” Champaneri said. “We feature local art and have local art with elements of being in a bigger metro city. We feel it fits the market.”
The lobby is anchored by the WXYZ Bar and feels more like a social club than a hotel, with a pool table, outdoor seating and live music. It also has a buffet-style food area, communication stations, meeting spaces and an exercise area. Champaneri said he hopes the hotel becomes a nightspot for locals as well as travelers.
“The hotel is the perfect spot for anyone going out on the town to socialize with corporate clients, or a place just to hang out and unwind,” Champaneri said.
The hotel has 107 rooms, including seven suites, and has accessible technology and Wi-Fi throughout the entire building.
Aloft is the seventh hotel constructed in the Vista in the past 15 years, said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., but officials say they aren’t worried about market saturation.
“This product is geared toward the millennial generation,” Champaneri said. “More and more people are coming to stay in this type of hotel because it is conveniently located with potential for corporate business or leisure.”
Bill Ellen, president and CEO of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, said he is excited about the newest addition to the neighborhood.
“We welcome Aloft,” Ellen said. “The boutique concept is something that we hope enhances the overall package of Columbia.”
Ellen said that visitors to the Capital City have increased so the addition of another hotel is welcome.
According to 2014 figures, 14.5 million people were coming to Columbia annually, and 5.5 million to 6 million of those were staying overnight.
“Occupancy is up, and we are outpacing our competitors in growth,” Ellen said. “More product is certainly needed.”
Aloft opened to guests Feb. 16. According to the hotel’s website, room rates are between $132 and $179 and include breakfast or daily drinks at the new bar in the lobby.
Champaneri said he has some further plans for Columbia and is looking at a possible new development in the Upstate.