The Re­vival­ist

Hav­ing breathed new life into clas­sic prop­er­ties in the Mid­west and the Caribbean, hip hote­lier Ben Weprin has a new vi­sion for New Or­leans.

Forbes - - Forbes Life - By ABRAM Brown

Res­ur­rec­tion is a time-hon­ored tra­di­tion in New Or­leans, and the city’s lat­est re­nais­sance is hap­pen­ing now at the Pontchar­train Ho­tel, a 106-room, 88-year-old property in the Gar­den Dis­trict. The fags above its awnings still droop and its Vene­tian-style plas­ter façade has faded from its for­mer glory. It’s what a Real­tor might mar­ket as a fxer-up­per, one with plenty of char­ac­ter. Back in the day the Man­ning fam­ily used to go to the Pontchar­train for hol­i­day din­ners, Archie suit­ing up his boys in jack­ets and ties. Ten­nessee Wil­liams lived in the ho­tel while writ­ing A Street­car Named De­sire; the city’s green trol­leys still rum­ble past on St. Charles Av­enue.

The man re­spon­si­ble for ren­o­vat­ing the Pontchar­train for a June 2016 open­ing couldn’t be more ex­cited at its po­ten­tial. “Dude, the history of New Or­leans is amaz­ing,” says 37-year-old Ben Weprin, wind­ing through the con­struc­tion con­sum­ing the ho­tel’s in­te­rior. “New Or­leans is just f--king cool. Lil Wayne grew up around here!”

Weprin, founder of Chicago-based AJ Cap­i­tal Part­ners—“aj” stands for “ad­ven­tur­ous jour­neys”—is one of the hottest young ho­tel de­vel­op­ers in the coun­try. He spe­cial­izes in buy­ing a run-down gem and giv­ing it a new shine, a task un­doubt­edly made eas­ier by his ir­re­press­ible mid­west­ern op­ti­mism. Armed with $800 mil­lion in eq­uity raised from the likes of bil­lion­aire John Pritzker, he has suc­cess­fully re­ju­ve­nated re­sorts and ho­tels in the Caribbean, Miami, Napa Val­ley and, of course, Chicago. AJ Cap­i­tal’s port­fo­lio con­tains 18 ho­tels, in­clud­ing the iconic Mal- li­ouhana in An­guilla and the more rea­son­ably priced Graduate ho­tels (up­scale lodg­ing in much-vis­ited col­lege towns). “He’s ag­gres­sive and knows what he wants,” says Pritzker, who was an ex­ec­u­tive at his fam­ily’s Hy­att Ho­tels be­fore launch­ing the Joie de Vivre, tom­mie, Alila and Thomp­son bou­tique ho­tels. “There’s no stop­ping Ben if he wants some­thing.”

Weprin needed to think that way when he got started—in the fourth quar­ter of 2008 (the char­ac­ters “Q408” par­tially form AJ Cap­i­tal’s of­cial logo). Af­ter work­ing as a real es­tate bro­ker and for Chicago de­vel­oper and restau­ra­teur Larry Levy, Weprin set out to raise his own cap­i­tal to buy lux­ury re­sorts, fgur­ing the crash would make them less ex­pen­sive. And if the prop­er­ties had the right prove­nance, he reck­oned, peo­ple would even­tu­ally re­turn. He scraped to­gether funds from “who­ever would in­vest in me,” he says, even hit­ting up his child­hood der­ma­tol­o­gist (who con­trib­uted a small amount).

Much of Weprin’s time has been spent in Chicago. There he has ren­o­vated and re­opened three ho­tels: the Soho House Chicago, Ho­tel Lin­coln and the Chicago Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion, which as its name sug­gests was once a pri­vate men’s club. He has a schmaltzy line about what he does—“we’re not own­ers; we’re stew­ards”—but he does tend to look at a new property with a preser­va­tion archi-

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