Room & Board
Prepare to get snowed, Keystone, because Marc Frank Montoya is headed your way.
On November 1, the Denver homeboy-turned-professional-snowboarder and his business partner (and brother-in-law) Liko S. Smith finalized an agreement to purchase the 58-room Arapahoe Inn from Chicago businessman Roman Kowalewitz for $4.2 million. They plan to spend another million bucks renovating the Keystone lodge and turning it into the only hotel in the Rocky Mountain region that caters to snowboarders. It will be the third location for the Block Hotel, a growing enterprise that lists some of the sport's top riders as investors -- including Kurt Wastell, JJ Thomas and Mikey LeBlanc -- and has plans to open up to twenty more hotels over the next seven years.
This ambitious "for snowboarders by snowboarders" scheme started out with a casual conversation at a family gathering in early 2003. At the time a tour-and-travel sales exec with a San Francisco-based hotel group, the fast-talking Smith was considering buying a 28-room motel in South Lake Tahoe, California. As he chatted with his brother-in-law about the project, Montoya suggested focusing on snowboarders as clientele. "He had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted it to be like," Smith says, and that included making the hotel itself a hip destination that reflected the snowboard lifestyle.
They wound up purchasing the property jointly for $1.4 million, outfitting the 36-year-old inn with free wi-fi and computer access in the lobby, a special board-waxing room and an uber-fresh decor enhanced by graffiti art and snowboard photography. The first Block Hotel opened that summer, and business went so well, the partners soon bought the hotel next door, adding another 22 rooms. Through Montoya's connections in the industry, they expanded the ownership to other pro snowboarders, bringing in more cash and street cred. "We thought about it," say Smith, "and we said, 'You know, it's a great idea to bring in pro snowboarders, because you can use their intellectual capital to help us understand the market."
To bring in more pros as guests, they offered half-off room rates -- and if the pro didn't have a board sponsor, the accommodations were free. They also invited consumer brands to develop their own "signature suites," so that guests could choose between custom-designed rooms by companies such as Zoo York, Nikita clothing, Napster, Volcom and Jones Soda Co. And no matter their corporate connection, all rooms came equipped with PlayStation 2 game consoles, boot/glove dryers, cordless phones and mini-boomboxes -- a lot of bling-bling for a price that ranged between $100 and $250 a night, depending on room and season.
After a poker room and roof-top hot tub were added, the two-story motel quickly became a bumpin' hot spot for the Lake Tahoe area. "Snowboarders get treated like kings," Montoya says. "You go in a hotel anywhere else, they got no flavor, they're all uptight, you can't kick it in the lobby, you can't be loud. I love it when [other hotels] treat me like that, because I know the Block is going to run over them. I'm going to take their spot one day."
The second boarder hotel opened this summer at Big Bear Lake, California, with fifty rooms and a 1,200-square-foot bar and lounge. By now, Montoya and Smith saw the Block as a brand, and the Block experience had to include not only include phat accommodations, but killer activities and nightlife, as well. The Lake Tahoe Block has already hosted a major rail contest (with all proceeds going to the Infantile Scoliosis Outreach Program, an organization run by Montoya's sister, Heather Hyatt-Montoya, whose daughter suffers from scoliosis); after the competition, thousands of visitors were funneled to a nearby nightclub for a Block-sponsored party. MTV even featured the hard-partying hotel in an episode of Made, and is talking with the partners about doing a twelve-part reality-TV series there with snowboarders as the characters.
Montoya and Smith are shooting for the Keystone Block to open in November 2006. Redesigned with a "very hip Las Vegas decor," the new hotel will be the "most MFM of the MFM hotels, because he's from Colorado and he's got to represent," Smith says of Montoya. "This means plasma-screen TV, PS2s, iPods, the whole thing."
If the success of their first two locations carries through, the sleepy resort could find itself with a lot of high-profile snowboarders energizing the area. "And if we're not satisfied with the nightlife in Keystone, then we're going to buy a restaurant and create the nightlife on our own," Smith promises.
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