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February 14 , 2012

Crowning Hospitality on City Avenue

If the truism about “location being practically everything” runs true, then the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West has not only taken advantage of its prime location but has exceeded it by a mile.

Situated just off the Schuylkill Expressway at the entrance to the bustling City Avenue corridor, the Crowne Plaza is roughly halfway between the city and the suburbs and is within striking distance of most of the region’s major historic sites and universities.

Gary Brandeis, the investment manager for the hotel’s ownership group, says, “We’ve come a long way — especially because of Russell Peskin and his team — taking it from where it was to where it is today.”

Brandeis is referring to the efficient general manager of the hotel, who shares his vision.

“There’s been a total change in the restaurant/hospitality community of Philadelphia,” says Peskin, “and we’re pleased to be a major player. We’re active with the Greater Philadelphia Hospitality Group and Chamber of Commerce and offer several local packages to make it fun for our guests and their families.

“We have partnerships with the Please Touch Museum, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and we’ll soon have one with the relocated Barnes Foundation. We have an hourly shuttle bus service that will take visitors to key locations — from Main Street Manayunk and the 30th Street Station to the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the shops along City Avenue.”

Brandeis, who was born in the northeastern part of the city, is especially proud of how much the hotel has achieved in the four years since the Crowne Plaza purchased the property from Holiday Inn (it had opened as a Best Western in 1982 before Holiday Inn took over two years later).

He recalls spending a lot of time in the area when it was dubbed “the Golden Mile,” visiting his grandparents, who lived at City Avenue at Haverford.

“In those days,” he says, “the Marriott and Adam’s Mark were the major hotels in the area, and we had Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. We had the 12 Caesars and plenty of great shops. It was once the place to be. Then it went into a period of decline and now it’s on its way back.”

He says that the Crowne Plaza group invested in the property when the Adam’s Mark came down.

“We wanted to be a catalyst in the resurgence of this area,” he says. And now that new zoning laws on the Lower Merion side of City Avenue assure the growth of new businesses there, we knew that with a little tender loving care [an $8 million renovation to the guest rooms and restaurant, according to Peskin], a great product with great price points — we could really make this property take off.”

Peskin, who previously served as food and beverage director at the Union League and later at the Philmont Country Club in Huntingdon Valley, says that his strength — and that of his staff — is service.

“There is no such thing as ‘No,’” he laughed during breakfast Feb. 5 at the Avenue Grill. “If it’s at all possible, we’ll do it for our guests.”

That includes a Play & Stay Package that features deluxe overnight accommodations at the hotel, including a breakfast buffet for four at the grill and four general admission tickets to the Please Touch Museum. When we inquired about this package, rather late in the week, we were informed by guest services that all the Please Touch tickets were already accounted for, but that the hotel would purchase the tickets on our behalf so that we could still visit the museum as part of the package.

The hotel is also offering a Valentine’s Day Package for two throughout the month of February. Couples are invited to spend an intimate night in the city, including champagne and strawberries upon arrival, plus a $40 gift certificate to Avenue Grill and a freshly prepared complimentary breakfast the next morning.

There are also Philly Overnight Packages and others in the hotel’s store of enticements.

And, to be honest, even the newly refurbished Avenue Grill has become an enticement in itself. Brandeis says that the restaurant has always been a major part of the business plan — not only to serve their business and leisure guests with exceptional breakfast, lunch and dinner menus but also to attract local business people.

“As a business person in this community,” says Brandeis, a resident of Villanova, “I have about two or three breakfast meetings a week. So we felt that the Crowne Plaza could add a third great location for breakfast meetings just outside the city, along with the Marriott Conshohocken and the Radnor Hotel.

“Our goal has always been to raise the profile of the property, to have more corporate events here and, with all the new business coming to the area, to offer a genuine alternative to the dining options in the area — including dinner.”

With Manayunk nearby, there are clearly plenty of dining options. But Brandeis says, “From burgers, fries and a great beer to shrimp, crab cakes, filet and a great glass of red wine, we wanted to offer a nice mix.” And with the able assistance of Director of Food and Beverage Mahim Sharma and Executive Chef Craig Orlando, the Avenue Grill has begun to exceed all expectations.

Rates for the 337 warmly appointed guestrooms, many of which contain whirlpool baths, range from $139 to $199 per night. All rooms — featuring two double beds, king-sized beds, junior and presidential suites — have comfortable Sealy mattresses, in-room coffee service, irons and full-size ironing boards, cable television with premium movie channels and Pay-Per-View, valet dry-cleaning service and room service from the Avenue Grill.

Additional amenities include complimentary wireless high-speed Internet access, a 24-hour business center, a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor pool and a well-informed guest services staff, led by amiable Guest Service Manager Tardu Ulgen, to help anyone with their plans for their visit.

In a relatively short time, according to Brandeis, the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West has catapulted into first place among the four Crowne Plaza locations in the region.

“And that is based entirely upon guest surveys,” says Peskin. “We take what our guests say very seriously. There’s so much competition out there, and we figure that if we can provide great food and service that people will keep choosing us.” – By Frank D. Quattrone-Ticket Editor for