When it was constructed in 1889, the 13-story Ames Building was the first skyscraper in Boston. The wealthy Ames family owned the hugely successful agricultural tool business, Ames Plow, launched in the late 1770s. Ames Plow picked a pinnacle point in downtown Boston on which to construct its corporate home, One Court Street, just off Washington Mall. Now the unique building may be transformed into a boutique.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the Ames Building was designed by Shepley Rutan & Coolidge in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, so named for architect H.H. Richardson, who designed many of the Ames family's structures in nearby Easton, Mass. The structure — one of the tallest masonry buildings in the world — stands out for its intricate details and dramatic roofline overhang.
The 93,500 sq. ft. building served as the headquarters for Ames Plow until the company was sold in the 1950s. Developers tried to turn it into a tech haven in the late 1990s, but then the dot-com bust hit and those plans languished. An Irish group, O'Callaghan Hotels, bought it and began redevelopment work in 2005, but found the project too complicated to manage from afar. It opted out earlier this year, selling it to New Jersey-based Normandy Real Estate Partners for $17.8 million.
Formed in 2002, Normandy owns about 7.2 million sq. ft. in commercial projects along the East Coast. It has big plans for the Ames Building: a $40 million renovation that will transform it into a 125-room boutique hotel. British real estate investor Richard Kilstock and Eamon O'Marah, a Boston developer who's currently working on a 200-room W Hotel in Providence, R.I., are minority partners.
The boutique hotel market is burgeoning in Boston, but Normandy also bought the Ames Building for its prime location and striking, says Justin Krebs, principal in charge of the New England region. “It's a spectacular structure built with an amazing level of artistry,” and the high ceilings and layout fit a boutique hotel.
Plans call for a snazzy lounge and two stories of restaurants. Normandy has already had discussions with Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro and Nobu Matsuhisa's Nobu, both of New York, as well as Boston restaurateurs. The firm has not yet decided whether to operate the hotel independently or to bring in a boutique flag.
Any doubts Normandy may have had about the Ames Building's viability as a boutique hotel were dispelled by the internationally renowned Ian Schrager, who tried to buy it himself before learning Normandy had put it under contract, Krebs says. “It was nice to get a nod from the grandfather of boutique hotels,” he adds.
Normandy is pursuing both state and federal historical tax credits. Though not yet finalized, the new name — possibly The Ames Hotel — will pay homage to the Ames family, Krebs says. “We look at Boston as a major historical destination, and we think the Ames name just adds to the value of the hotel,” he says. “As a company, we think dollars and cents, but we also treasure grand, historical structures.”