Nob Hill hotels losing their luster as Moscone draws tourists 

There was a time when almost every San Francisco visitor armed with a briefcase, even just a camera and map, would stay in the history-rich guestrooms of Nob Hill. But now four hotels in that neighborhood are up for sale as tourists, business travelers and conference-goers seek locations closer to downtown or Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Nob Hill properties on the market are the Fairmont Hotel, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins, the Huntington Hotel and the Stanford Court Renaissance Hotel. While each hotel has its own reason for selling, all of them suffered from the migration of business travelers to lodging near the Moscone Center.

While the Nob Hill hotels have conference facilities, managers there can’t expect to match the draw of the Moscone Center, the South of Market facility that boasts 106 meeting rooms comprising more than 250,000 square feet.

The Moscone Center, located in the South of Market neighborhood, drew about 920,000 people to 92 total events in the 2009-10 fiscal year, with expected numbers in 2010-11 to top 1 million people.

“Some of the energy centers here in The City have shifted,” said Scott McCoy, general manager of the Stanford Court. “Part of our play is we have that piece of uniqueness in San Francisco. It’s a bit of a retreat up here, but you can still experience The City.”

Rick Swig, longtime hotelier and founder of RSBA & Associates, said so many Nob Hill hotels are on the market due to a combination of investment, location and political dynamics. The Fairmont’s recent attempt to convert part of its facility into condominiums didn’t pass muster with city leaders, and the owners decided to sell.

Swig said if Nob Hill hotels have a financial future, it will be in some mixture of hospitality and conversion to residences.

“The opportunity to reinvent those hotels is over,” he said.

In addition to the Nob Hill properties, the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center and the Larkspur Hotel in Union Square also are for sale, showing a volume of hotel real estate unseen in The City since the height of the market in 2007.

On the market

Fairmont Hotel
Opened: 1907
Rooms: 591
Claims to fame:
- The partially constructed Fairmont survived the 1906 earthquake, after which construction continued
- Hosted international diplomats who eventually signed the charter for the United Nations in 1945
- The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, a beloved tropical-themed tiki bar, opened in 1967
- Featured in films such as “The Rock” and served as exteriors for the St. Gregory Hotel in the 1983 television series, “Hotel”

InterContinental Mark Hopkins
Opened: 1926
Rooms: 380
Claim to fame:
- Once the site of Central Pacific Railroad founder Mark Hopkins’ mansion, which survived the 1906 earthquake but burned in the subsequent three-day fire
- Room of the Dons features nine-foot paintings by Maynard Dixon and Frank Von Sloun

Stanford Court
Opened: 1907
Rooms: 393
Claim to fame:
- Built on the former site of Leland Stanford’s mansion, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake

Huntington Hotel
Opened: 1922 (as apartments)
Rooms: 135
Claim to fame:
- Named for Collis P. Huntington, a famous railroad tycoon of the Old West

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Dan Schreiber

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