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New hipster Freehand hostel planned for downtown

Chicago version of Freehand Hostel to open in spring 2015.

A highly styled, high-end hostel will join a crop of new hotels sprouting up downtown.

The Freehand Hostel, set to open in spring 2015, has set aside 40 percent of its planned 217 rooms for shared sleeping, with rooms featuring four to eight beds, many of them bunk-style. The property, being developed by the New York-based Sydell Group, is currently under construction in the gutted space that was the Tokyo Hotel on East Ohio Street.

It is the second hostel Sydell is developing under the Freehand brand; the Freehand Miami was the first. Several more, including one under construction in Los Angeles, are planned, said Sydell founder and CEO Andrew Zobler.

Zobler describes Chicago's Freehand as more "urban and sophisticated than your average hostel," with an outpost of its Miami predecessor's buzzy, hipster bar — the Broken Shaker — planned for the lobby. "People come to a hostel because they want to meet other people," he told the Tribune. "If you want to be left alone, it's not the right place for you."

The hostel — with rooms designed by celebrity designers Roman and Williams — is expected to cater to young hipsters who may have the style but not necessarily the deep pockets to frequent the crop of boutique hotels popping up downtown in recent months. The Freehand Chicago, according to Zobler, has taken the design up a notch to help it compete with area hotels.

Zobler declined to be specific about the prices for the shared and private rooms, but the Freehand's sister property in Miami offers private rooms for about $196 a night on a weekend in December and a single bed in a shared room of eight for about $37.

However, unlike the Freehand Miami, the Chicago version will cater mostly to business travelers, who are the biggest money generators in the hotel industry. That's why more than half of Freehand Chicago's rooms will be private.

"You have a lot of hostel travelers when the weather's good, you don't have so many of those travelers in the winter," Zobler said. "We wanted to make sure the bread and butter corporate business travelers would like (it)."

The Freehand offers a twist in what industry watchers are calling a boom in Chicago's hotel market. The number of hotel rooms available nightly in Chicago has climbed more than 6 percent since July 2011, according to Chicago tourism officials. So far this year, the total supply of hotel room nights in the city has risen to 11.27 million from 10.89 million. And the growth is expected to continue, industry watchers say.

And with more hotels in the works, such as the 52-story Loews in Streeterville, the Virgin Hotel near Lake Street and Wabash Avenue or the newly opened Godfrey, the number of available hotel rooms is expected to climb between 7 and 10 percent, according to Peter Greene, first vice president at CBRE Chicago. "We'll see more in the future," said Greene. "There's a lot of [hotel room] supply coming in and it will affect the downtown market as a whole."

Other recently opened boutique hotels include the Kinzie in the Loop and Hotel Indigo near Millennium Park.

Greene added that the volume of direct flights to and from Chicago and the city's heightened restaurant and shopping profile is likely to continue to grow. As will its well of travelers who want chic digs in which to lay their heads after a long day of business meetings, touring, shopping or socializing.

"With so many companies coming in from the suburbs and the new high tech corridor in the West Loop, we're going to see growth in the market," he added.

crshropshire@tribune.com

Twitter @corilyns

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