It’s a Saturday evening in early spring and the lobby of downtown Detroit’s newest hotel, the Siren is packed. Out-of-towners and locals alike lounge on fringed, velvet-clad furniture, friends gather on a petite, canopied daybed for an intimate chat, selfies are snapped in an ornate 19th-century Italian giltwood mirror.
“It’s been like this since we opened,” says the maitre’d, dressed in a pale pink suit an almost exact match to the rosy glow that pours out of the hotel’s Candy Bar, its walls flecked with the glittery shimmer of a disco ball and a 1970s Murano glass chandelier. Notably, the hotel wasn’t even fully opened – its second-floor restaurant, Karl’s, run by chef Kate Williams, and eight-seat tasting counter helmed by Garrett Lipar were still under construction, as were several other floors and the roof top bar. But at long last, it seemed, the crop of cool hunters flocking to Detroit for its post-industrial cultural renaissance had a place to post up.
This is the genius of Ari Heckman, Jonathan Minkoff, Will Cooper, and Jenna Goldman of Brooklyn-based firm ASH NYC: They know how to spot the up-and-comers. Cities, that is.
When Heckman and Minkoff left their jobs at a Brooklyn-based real estate firm to start one of their own in 2008, hotels weren’t really part of the plan.
“There was never a real business plan,” Heckman admits. “It was always very organic.”
The luxurious lobby at the Siren.
Photo: Christian Harder
At that point, they were essentially running two businesses side-by-side: one that invested in real estate and another that specialized in staging, something they started doing for their own projects that soon gained traction among the industry at large. With the one-year non-compete from their old employer mandating that they invest outside of New York, the duo looked to Heckman’s hometown: Providence, Rhode Island.
“We started buying college housing near Brown and RISD,” he explains. “Multi-family buildings that we could make a little bit better than the competition. It was like putting lipstick on a pig.”
Not long after, they brought in Will Cooper who had cut his teeth at Ralph Lauren, as chief creative officer to tackle merging the two businesses into one. Soon, they were buying run-down residential properties in Brooklyn, spiffing them up, and re-selling them at serious gains. Then, in 2012, a broker brought them an interesting building: a landmarked strip club and brothel in downtown Providence.
“It had been for most of its history a boarding house. It had 60 rooms and 60 en suite bathrooms,” says Heckman (they ended up merging a few, bringing the new total down to 53). “It was just staring you in the face that you should preserve that footprint and make it a hotel.”
The four ASH partners – Ari Heckman, founding partner and CEO, Jonathan Minkoff, founding partner and CFO, Will Cooper, partner and CCO, and Jenna Goldman, partner and director of development – at the Siren hotel in downtown Detroit.