How London got a Hard Rock

Martha Leach, manager at 100 Kellogg Lane, sheds light on the strategy, thinking and process that led to London landing Canada’s first Hard Rock Hotel

Photo: Martha Leach, manager at 100 Kellogg Lane

LAST WEEK, FLORIDA-based Hard Rock International announced that it was expanding into London with their first Canadian Hard Rock Hotel, to be located at 100 Kellogg Lane in the city’s east end. The planned 353-room hotel is being built in two phases, with an initial 163-room opening planned for late 2022 and final site completion in 2025.

London Inc. spoke with the manager of the 100 Kellogg Lane complex, Martha Leach (whose family also owns the property), about what this announcement will mean for the city, its tourism industry and the growing 100 Kellogg Lane facility.

London Inc: With a growing entertainment complex at 100 Kellogg Lane, why was a hotel an important component for you?

Martha Leach: From the very beginning we have known we wanted a hotel here. With the Children’s Museum, The Factory and all our other attractions, we really want this to be a destination where people stay for more than just a few hours. We want to create a staycation kind of experience, so the goal was always to have a hotel. We were super inspired by places like Detroit, the [Toronto] Distillery District — they have done a great job transforming old buildings.

“They were like, ‘Where’s London, Ontario?’ But once they did their market research… they were impressed… and when they got up here it was an easy sell”

LI: How did you go from the idea for a hotel to a Hard Rock Hotel?

ML: All along we were thinking that we would do the hotel — just a private boutique hotel, and we would do it ourselves. We were getting people reaching out from the Hyatt, Marriott, a couple of those chains, and it just didn’t seem right. What we wanted to do here is have something totally different. So, when we got connected with Hard Rock, they were awesome because they said, ‘Part of what attracts us to the site is the history of the building, the concrete posts, the infrastructure.’ So, we knew that they embraced what our vision was ― and it made it a really good fit.

LI: Why Hard Rock? How did that partnership come about?

ML: What happened was, my family has some real estate down in the U.S. and one of the sites is in Memphis, and [Hard Rock] had been trying to work out a deal with us there. During negotiations, my dad said, ‘You really need to come up and see what we’re doing in London, Ontario.’ At that point, they were like, ‘Where’s London, Ontario?’ But once they did their market research, they saw we’re halfway between Toronto and Detroit, we’re close to the border and there’s a great demographic. They were impressed, and when they got up here it was an easy sell.

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LI: Easy sell in what respect?

ML: [Hard Rock] will tell you most people reach out to them wanting the hotel to come first, and then they promise that they’re going to build out all these amenities after. The fact that we already have The Factory built, that the Children’s Museum has signed a lease, there’s a distillery, there’s a brewery — for them, that was amazing.

LI: Did features or attractions outside of 100 Kellogg play a part?

ML: We’ve kind of joked a little bit that we are creating our own island. We’re really happy with Old East Village, but in essence, people will be able to come and stay at the facility and not leave if they don’t want to. The footprint of the building is a million square feet — you can go from the hotel rooms directly to The Factory and never going outside. It’s a unique site.

“I think our holidays and our vacations will look different on the other side of this, but I think there’s going to be a demand for what this offers”

LI: What kind of demographic do you expect the hotel will appeal to?

ML: What I’ve always loved about what we’re doing is there’s going to be something for everybody. We tried to do that with our Merry Market — for every person, how could you not like something there? But ultimately, I think it will be for families that like to have fun together ―and not just kid fun. It’s got adult fun and kid fun, all in one place.

LI: Hotels are suffering right now; airlines are cutting routes left, right and centre — how do you make a 350-plus room hotel work when everything is still so up in the air?

A: You know, I think by the time we’re on the other side of this pandemic, people may not be 100 per cent comfortable jumping on an airplane and flying to Disney World. But they are going to want to be able to do things outside of their home, and maybe that’s getting in the car and driving two hours to a neat experience. I think our holidays and our vacations will look different on the other side of this, but I think there’s going to be a demand for what this offers.

LI: I would imagine the affordability aspect plays a part, too.  

ML: Not a lot of families can afford the $10,000 vacation to Disney World anymore, so this will be something that you can experience, but also be manageable for families. You’re not going to have to remortgage your house to go on vacation to come to this place. And it’s also a unique destination because most of Ontario’s other destinations are seasonal ― they’re 90 days, whether you’re at the beaches or the ski hill. It’s a short window, whereas this facility is open 12 months a year.

LI: Overall, what do you hope this does for London?

ML: For London, it’s for sure a job-creation thing, but also it will give people a reason to come. And I think that once they get here, they’ll see a gem that they didn’t necessarily know about. We have Bud Gardens, the Labatt ballpark — we have so many cool things here. What the hotel will do for London is bring people here, but then they’ll discover more once they come. How London got a Hard Rock Hard Rock Lodging Interview by Kieran Delamont

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