Like most young boys, Joe Dinnison dreamed of someday owning a cool sports car. His favorite was an early ‘60s version of the Ferrari V-12 called the “Lusso,” the Italian word for luxury.
Fifteen years ago. Dinnison saw a used one for sale on Rockwood Boulevard - a “bargain” at $25,000 - but he couldn’t afford it.
Now, at age 40, Dinnison has finally gotten his Lusso. But he ended up paying $5 million.
His Lusso isn’t a car. It’s a hotel.
The 48-room Hotel Lusso, downtown on the corner of Post and Sprague, officially opens for business Monday. Dinnison has gone to great lengths to ensure that Lusso becomes synonymous with luxury in English as well as Italian.
With the help of general contractor Jim Elmer and interior designer John Rovtar, Dinnison has, in his words, “plagiarized every good idea I could find” to distinguish Hotel Lusso from the local competition.
Translation: free limousine shuttle service, afternoon hors d’oeuvres, leather furniture, fireplaces, jetted tubs, and, says Dinnison, “an individual profile on each client coming through the door, so we know in advance what special services they want.”
Starting with two historic buildings - the five-story 1889 Whitten, site of Fugazzi restaurant but unoccupied above the first floor, and the adjacent 1890 Miller, which had been vacant for years - Dinnison has created a cozy, quiet urban retreat with an elegant “boutique” ambience one might expect to encounter in San Francisco, Portland … or Florence, Italy.
Designer Rovtar - whose previous credits include Fugazzi, as well as make-overs of Great Harvest Bakery and Niko’s downtown restaurant - was given carte blanche to evoke an environment that reflects both the quality and Mediterranean feel conveyed by the name Lusso.
“We wanted the hotel to be very different than anything else here,” says Rovtar, “to have its own personality.”
That message comes across as soon as guests enter the lobby, where fauxstone fountains and corbels compete for attention with Italian marble, gilded mirrors and an elaborate trompe l’oeil ceiling mural.
Conjuring the magic of boutique status demands more than exotic lamps, says Rovtar. “It’s colors, it’s sounds, it’s smells. You walk in and hear water splashing in the fountain bowls; you see flames flickering in the fireplace; you sit in the sofas and smell the leather and you know there’s quality there.”
But Dinnison insists quality is also conveyed by what you don’t hear - the sound of a toilet flushing in the next room. To that end, he “drove the contractors nuts” specifying castiron pipes and rooms separated by double walls and insulated ceilings. Even the wall sockets were staggered to discourage noise from traveling.
Each room also has its own thermostat and heat source, so guests can fine-tune the temperature.
Who’s likely to pay premium rates - $110 to $250 - to be pampered?
“We’re really after two types of clientele,” explains Doug Griepp, director of sales and marketing. “One is the high-end corporate market.
“Right now, those people have two choices: stay in a budget hotel, or stay in a convention hotel. But corporate executives sometimes get lost in the shuffle of an 800-person convention. So Sunday through Thursday, we’re really dedicated to serving those travelers.
“Thursday through Saturday, we look to the local community to support the hotel with weekend getaways, anniversaries, honeymoons. We already have eight weddings on the books for ‘98,” says Griepp.
“Good hotels have a mystique,” says general manager Carl Naccarato, who, like Griepp and the hotel’s assistant manager, all left the Ridpath Hotel to lead the Lusso staff of 25. “The best hotels can become a memorable part in someone’s life. That’s our goal. We want the hotel to be fun for people, but not stuffy. We want people to relax and feel like they’re in their own home.”
Hotel Lusso’s debut comes on the heels of another local addition, the 14-room Kempis Executive Suites at 523 S. Washington.
Caridan Craig, director of marketing and operations, describes the Kempis as a boutique hotel, too, noting such unconventional amenities as antique furnishings, a computer center, and shuttle service in a 1980 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II. Rooms start at $125 and, like the Hotel Lusso, include a continental breakfast.
Since the Kempis opened Oct. 17, occupancy has been “pretty good,” reports Craig.
Whether Spokane can support two boutique hotels remains to be seen.
Rick La Fleur, general manager of the Spokane Airport Ramada Inn and president of both the local and state Hotel-Motel Associations, is optimistic.
“Carl (Naccarato) is offering a unique product that none of us have at this point,” says La Fleur. “And, in most businesses, if you can offer a unique product, you’re usually successful.”
But La Fleur doesn’t expect other local hoteliers to follow Dinnison’s lead and get into a coddling war.
“Hotel Lusso is going after the upper-middle class, if not the high end - retired wealthy people and corporate executives. That’s not my market,” says La Fleur. “I cater to businessmen in a hurry, who are looking for economical lodging and a convenient place to meet.
“He’s going to get people looking for the pampering. That’s a whole different level of service.”
Dinnison agrees, to a point.
“I have no experience in the hotel business,” he admits. “What I tried to do here is think of how I’d like to be treated when I stay in a hotel.
“It doesn’t cost that much more (for a hotel) to go first class,” says Dinnison, “and we’re confident we can get a higher room rent that will cover those higher costs.” , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)