Images on the website for the new Moxy Hotel in Uptown feature half-dressed patrons jumping on beds along with promises that “the bar is always open.” A video shows a group of young male hotel guests carrying a woman on their shoulders, and a woman patting a man’s rear end. Another photo shows a young man in his underwear, and another features a woman sprawled across the laps of several partygoers.
“Swing from the chandeliers,” it says. “Forget the rules.”
This is not the family-friendly, quiet hotel some residents say they were promised when a developer unveiled plans for the $23 million hotel scheduled to open in mid-January. It’s one among several concerns about the project, which also include parking and noise.
“The whole drunken debauchery image is concerning,” says Nazeera Mohammed, who lives a few doors down from the hotel on Emerson and fears its impact on her teenage daughter.
But the criticism is misplaced, insists Benjamin Graves, CEO of Graves Hospitality, developer and owner of the Moxy.
“I think it’s going to be a great project that will be a great amenity for the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s going to be a nice place to go. There will not be some drunken debauchery.”
The Moxy is the first new hotel in Uptown in at least a generation, and it is reigniting an intense debate about how new businesses mesh with residents in this trendy neighborhood.
Hundreds of residents petitioned against construction of the 124-room boutique hotel at the corner of W. Lake Street and Emerson Avenue. Hundreds more, including retailers, urged the city to approve it, seeing it as a positive attraction and a good destination for business travelers.
Now some residents worry about the noise from the hotel’s rooftop ventilating system, hotel traffic on an adjacent alley and a request from the developers for a full-scale liquor license. Then there are the implications of Moxy’s website, which encourages patrons to engage in uninhibited behavior that some neighbors fear will spill onto their front yards and sidewalks.
“At the end of the day, we live in the city,” said Alex Cecchini, who lives five blocks from the six-story hotel and circulated a petition last year supporting the Moxy. “We live close to one of the most desirable commercial districts in the city, Uptown, and change, people, traffic, nightlife is part of that.”
Last week the City Council voted to approve a liquor license for Moxy. Tenth Ward Council Member Lisa Bender, who represents the area, said issues raised by neighbors have been addressed by city staff, except for a higher fence behind the hotel that would require a variance and could be taken up next year. Some neighbors say their concerns have not been resolved.
Developers engaged in a “bait and switch” strategy, said Phil Qualy, one of the neighborhood activists at odds with Moxy. Neighbors say that when the developers were seeking permits to build, they were promised a family-friendly hotel, contrary to the images on the website.
Graves says the Uptown Moxy website was designed by the Marriott hotel chain, and that his company does not control all the content on the website.
“This is a franchise hotel,” Graves said. “Anyone can stay there. It is not a hotel that’s just for young people.”
Neighbors say they were told there was only going to be beer and wine served, but City Council granted Moxy a full liquor license for a restaurant that could seat 100. Graves said that was always his intention.
“I remember Ben Graves saying this is a place for your family to stay when they visit, and for business travelers,” said resident Ginny Buran.
Graves said he has sought to address noise and traffic concerns, paying the city thousands of dollars to buy three parking spots at the front of the hotel so valets can pick up cars. Most people at the hotel will be coming by taxi, he said.
Kimberly Holien, a principal planner with the city’s zoning administration, said the city will tell contractors to screen the majority of the rooftop mechanical equipment to cut noise and a “no right hand turn” sign will be installed to bar traffic behind the hotel from going south in the alley.
As for parties from the hotel spilling out into the neighborhood, Holien said, “We can’t control who stays there. I haven’t seen the website.” She said the rezoned property has the right to a full liquor license.
Bender, who supported the rezoning that allowed the Moxy to be built, acknowledged the hotel has been the source of significant discussion. She said the City Council has listened and been in “constant communication” with neighbors, developers and licensing and zoning staff.
“We do everything we can within the limits of our regulatory authority as a city and we have gone above and beyond that to ask the project team to respond to the concerns of the neighbors,” Bender said. “There have been changes made to the project so far and I expect the developer to continue to make changes based on the concerns of neighbors.”