A new hotel in an old Seattle landmark

At Fourth and Virginia in Seattle, where Belltown meets downtown a few blocks from Pike Place Market, a trendy restaurant and residential district meets up with the city’s retail center. It’s here that hotelier Craig Schafer ’76 has made his mark.

His upscale Hotel Andra is nestled in the 1926 brick corner building once beloved as the low-cost Claremont Hotel. Built as an efficiency apartment building and retaining the same spacious rooms, the boutique hotel is touted by the likes of Fortune and Condé Nast Traveler magazines and the design industry for its appealing modern look and central location.

The building’s neighborhood has also found a new life. Once an edgy part of downtown, the spot is lively with business traffic by day and foodies searching for the perfect dinner at night. “We’re in walking distance of some of the best restaurants in the city,” says Schafer.

It took several years, but in 2002 Schafer bought the building from an owner who needed to sell. He ran it as the Claremont just long enough get a feel for the building and the neighborhood. Then he closed it for major renovation.

“I had a vision of what I wanted it to be. I wanted to offer something the market lacked, and I had a vision to create something that spoke a lot to Seattle,” he says. Schafer picked up some of the Scandinavian feel of old Seattle with clean, modern design as well as the cool, deep colors of a community on the water. Then he settled on the name Andra, which is Swedish and can mean “change” or “other,” an apt metaphor for that part of downtown.

“I’ve been in that changing neighborhood for 16 years now,” says restaurateur Tom Douglas, who in 2004 opened Lola in the ground-floor corner space of Schafer’s building. Douglas also owns the acclaimed Dahlia Lounge, just across the street from Andra, and the Palace Kitchen around the block. He recalls the days when his Dahlia Lounge was one of the few businesses to draw people to the neighborhood at night. “Back then some of my customers got mugged.”

The business owners worked together to get rid of a convenience store that seemed to draw trouble. That was a turning point for the neighborhood. Now new businesses like Schafer’s have taken root in the area’s old architecture. “Craig has done a beautiful job,” says Douglas.

A native of Tacoma who earned a degree in hotel and restaurant administration at Washington State University, Schafer started learning to be a manager at Westin Hotels in southern California. While he loved the industry, he couldn’t see himself as general manager of a single hotel. Instead, he came back to Washington to get an M.B.A. at the University of Puget Sound and work as a consultant for hotel property developers.

All of his work was true training for striking out on his own. He went on to Colliers Macaulay Nicolls International, setting up and heading the company’s first office in North America. “I learned so much about financing, about what works and doesn’t work,” he says.

He started investing in properties, finding opportunity where there was distress. Problems with the owner, misdirection, or bad marketing were all things that he and his fellow investors found easy to correct.

That led to the purchase of the old Meany Tower Hotel, an art deco building on the edge of the University of Washington campus. The large chain that owned it wasn’t targeting the university audience. Schafer and his partner were able to go in, strip away what wasn’t working, and redirect the property. Today it’s the much more successful Best Western University Tower Hotel.

The Andra project has provided new challenges for the entrepreneur, who likes fixing things. As he walks through, he inspects the spacious rooms, tweaks the curtains, and chews over placing new pieces of art, “I try to think about the room as you enter,” he says, pointing to a stylish coat hook near the door. “What is it you don’t have in a hotel room that you might have at home?”