Berkeley’s historic Hotel Durant sold for $27 million

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Claire Liu/Staff

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Berkeley’s iconic Hotel Durant was recently sold to a Utah-based firm, Gemstone Hotels & Resorts LLC.

Gemstone LLC made the $27.25 million purchase on Dec. 24, 2012, according to CoStar Group, a commercial real estate information company. The sale will result in a number of changes to the hotel, with major modifications in the interior, rooms, lobby and restaurants.

Thomas Prins, founder of Gemstone LLC, noted that “some major dollars” will be put into renovating the HVAC unit, which includes the building’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

The 144-room luxury hotel, named after first UC president and former mayor of Oakland Henry Durant opened in 1928 and has been a landmark in Berkeley since.

Prins’ company looked toward purchasing the Berkeley hotel due to the difficult “barriers to entry” in the area that result from demanding building codes and guidelines. Moreover, Prins believed the hotel to be in a prime location.

“We look for markets where we have a stable demand generator like a college campus,” Prins said.

Hotel Durant’s new general manager Jay Lee, who has been employed with Gemstone LLC for more than 15 years, says the hotel will look for new ways to become more involved in the local community. Lee also added that the hotel will be looking for ways to connect with UC Berkeley by incorporating more of the campus’s colors into the hotel and using uniquely styled furniture.

Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a San Francisco-based management company, bought the hotel in 2007 for $14 million and renovated it for $9 million. Royal Bank of Scotland acquired Hotel Durant after it went into default in 2011, keeping Joie de Vivre on as the managing company, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

In September, employees previously expressed a desire to see Joie De Vivre continue as the managing firm for the hotel. However, as a condition of the purchase, Joie de Vivre’s management agreement has since been ended.

“We have our own management company, and we happen to believe in it,” Prins said.

Despite the change of management for the hotel, Gemstone LLC intends to retain the vast majority of the staff currently present.

“Virtually no changes have been made to staff,” Lee said. “Ninety-eight percent of the staff is still here, and many of them received promotions.”

He noted that some employees were offered positions at other hotels managed by Joie de Vivre.

Employees, in general, said they looked to the change with excitement. Victor Rodriguez, director of engineering for the hotel and an employee for nearly 20 years, voiced his enthusiasm for the intended developments.

“It’s very exciting … I’m looking forward to working for Gemstone,” Rodriguez said. “They’re nice people and a great company.”

Contact Matt Trejo at [email protected]