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March 19--Fifty years after it last housed hotel rooms, the LeVeque Tower is again set to welcome guests with the opening of the Hotel LeVeque on Friday.

The 1927 Art Deco skyscraper at Broad and Front streets Downtown has been restored to its former glory after years of decline. The hotel opens alongside recently renovated and occupied offices and apartments (and soon, condos) on other floors.

Hotel LeVeque is part of Marriott's boutique Autograph Collection, a group of smaller hotels around the country that purposefully emphasizes unique touches rather than a standard decor. The brand refers to its hotels as "Exactly Like Nothing Else."

The interior design features Art Deco touches and a celestial theme. That's a nod to the LeVeque's status as Columbus' tallest building until the 1970s and the fact that it was built at a time of fascination with the heavens, in the early years of passenger airline travel.

Light fixtures, including a dramatic chandelier in the center of the lobby, have a star theme. Each room has a small, antique-style telescope that guests can use to survey the views from their windows of Downtown and the newly revitalized Scioto riverfront.

Local vendors were tapped to provide everything from toiletries and scented candles to artwork for the hotel.

At 149 rooms, it will have less than a quarter of the 600 rooms it originally had as an extension of the Deshler Hotel (torn down for the One Columbus office building), which it was connected to from 1927 to 1964. But it will have similar ambitions to be one of the premier places to stay Downtown.

It joins a growing number of boutique hotels Downtown, part of a national trend in upscale hotels, which move away from cookie-cutter uniformity although they are associated with major hotel brands. The LeVeque joins Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph, while others in the works include an AC hotel by Marriott across from the North Market and a Canopy by Hilton at 77 E. Nationwide Blvd.

"The customer no longer wants the chain approach," said Geri Lombard, general manager of Hotel LeVeque and the former general manager of Downtown's Renaissance Hotel, located just a few blocks away. "There's still a place for the chains. But for many visitors today, the uniqueness of a hotel is part of the experience of visiting another city."

The wave of boutique hotels coming to Downtown, Lombard said, is a sign of Columbus' growing popularity with conventioneers and tourists.

"It makes sense," he said. "Columbus is growing as a destination."

Boutique hotels' luxury touches don't come cheap. Hotel LeVeque is expected to have one of the highest room rates on average in the city, on a par with the nearby Joseph hotel in the Short North. Though rates vary by date and other factors, rates at either hotel could typically range from $200 to $275 per night.

That's at least 40 percent higher than the $142 average room rate last year for a Downtown hotel. But demand is strong: Last year, the average Downtown rate increased by 4.1 percent, compared with an average increase of 2.5 percent for all Columbus-area hotels.

Eric Belfrage, a Columbus-based senior vice president at commercial real estate firm CBRE Hotels, said the proliferation of upscale hotels such as the LeVeque is a sign of a growing market in central Ohio.

"The variation of hotel offerings is a positive for Columbus," Belfrage said. "There's demand growth -- from Downtown residents who may have people coming to visit, from events at the convention center, which is expanding."

Some of the same things that give the building its historic charm contributed to delays in the hoped-for opening date.

Hotel LeVeque was originally scheduled to open in November, but was pushed back a couple of times because of the unpredictable nature of historic renovations, Lombard said.

The hotel kept some elements of the original decor where possible. In some cases, such as the classical-Greece-themed wallpaper that lined what is the hotel's bar area that will have echoes of a 1930s speakeasy, it wasn't possible to preserve because of the deteriorated condition.

"Anytime you work with a historical building, challenges will always arise," Lombard said. The building's historic status also has dictated fixtures and equipment down to the scaled-down bellman carts, custom-made to fit in the LeVeque's relatively small elevators.

A couple of elements of the hotel will remain under construction until summer. The bar will be open with limited food service, but the restaurant will not be ready on opening day. The spa also will open later. A grand opening ceremony is envisioned once all these elements are in place, probably in late summer or early fall.

mrose@dispatch.com

@MarlaMRose

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