Brisbane’s Emporium is now re-born, better than ever, in Southbank with an expanded palette and a new level of wow!
Whether you stroll under the giant floating E on the Grey Street entrance, or better yet roll up in the hotel’s own chauffeured Maserati Levante, you will be in no doubt that you have landed somewhere special.
The 143-suite boutique property nestles in the heart of the Southpoint development, comprising commercial and apartment space and luxury residential units flanking the five-star Emporium hotel.
From the moment you cross the threshold, you will indeed encounter (as the Emporium website predicts) … and …. It is impossible not to be impressed either by the expanse of stunningly back-lit ruby-red shard glass or the 18m video wall that shimmers behind the rear porte cochère.
To succeed in opening a new hotel you have to do a lot of things right. For the Anthony John Group, creators of the Emporium hotel, that means taking a “hands on” approach to every element. The family-based Group, helmed by designer-builder Tony and interior design guru Francine John, undertook to develop the site, design the project, take on the fitout and then operate the hotel — all “in-house”. As if that wasn’t enough, they then had to be agile enough to reposition their entire strategy to cope with a pandemic. venue spoke to Daniel John, the youthful CEO of the group, to gain an insight into just how they managed to get it so right.
IN THE BEGINNING
Daniel John: “The Anthony John Group was started by Tony John some 40 years ago. Tony as a builder/architect has progressively grown the group into a very prominent developer. Across Brisbane there’s been a lot of corporate parks and a lot of commercial work. The original Emporium down in the Valley was probably one of Tony’s better known developments. Over time, we’ve been growing and growing but we’ve kept a very tight knit family run team to ensure we can maintain those levels of quality.”
The Emporium brand story started with their first property at the edge of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley district. It was, Daniel concedes, a “baptism by fire”. But it worked wonderfully well, being literally at the epicentre of the explosion of development that totally re-invigorated the inner North around Fortitude Valley, Newstead, New Farm and Bowen Hills.
STAYING HANDS ON
As Daniel explains it, the builder delivered the hotel as a ‘cold shell’ with the Anthony John Group then taking on the responsibility for the fitout. Having set the bar very high with the first Emporium they were determined to see that every aspect of the furnishings, fittings, in-room automation and entertainment technology would be finished exquisitely and operate flawlessly.
Daniel John: “A lot of thought went into how the rooms work and how they feel, to the point that once we had a couple of rooms clear from the builder, we would set one up and stay in it. We went through the process of trialing the touch control panels and confirming that the lights dimmed to the correct level at night. We checked the alarm clocks to make sure you don’t get light spill at night. You want to be able to have a really good night’s sleep in a hotel room. Once the blinds shut — ensuring they go all the way to achieve a full blackout in these rooms. We were very aware that these are all small gripes but as a guest, you always remember them. So what we call the touchpoints in the room all need to be absolutely on point.”
FOCUS ON SOUND
Daniel admits that it was his background as an engineer, coupled with his passion for AV that saw him become heavily involved with the technical aspects of the building. Bose sound systems are prominent throughout the public areas and the guestrooms, something which Daniel regards as a perfect brand alignment for Emporium. Each of the mirror finish televisions in the suites are paired with a Bose 300.
Daniel John: “Having Bose throughout my home, I know the product and my personal experience has always been one of absolute quality. So when our AV integrator JVG suggested placing Bose throughout the hotel, it was definitely something that was highly regarded and I’m glad we went down that pathway.”
As well as pure sound quality, the Bose Pro range of product brought other advantages as well. The soundbars for example, have a pre-settable volume limit that prevents excessive in-room sound levels thus avoiding annoyance to neighbouring rooms. In the foyers and corridors, where ceiling heights ranged from three metres to nine metres, utilising the Bose FreeSpace 3 range allowed JVG to create consistently warm, full-range foreground sound by mixing and matching between recessed and surface mount subwoofers and satellite speakers.
Whether by day or night, the premium atmosphere created by the unique lighting effects sets the Emporium property apart from the norm. Care has been taken to consider the interplay of light and shadow from outside and from the interior and nowhere is this more apparent than the unique Terrace Bar.
At the touch of a button, the impressive stainless steel ceiling, and the glass roof above can open to the sub-tropical sky — or close to guard against the rains. As with most of the public spaces, the night-time lighting is spectacular, with the illumination in this space emanating upwards from the floor.
Daniel John: “We wanted to make a statement here for our top level. The floor is actually backlit with 386 tiles of back-lit white onyx individually controlled to create the effect. Each tile is actually two sheets of 6mm toughened glass with a 6mm sheet of onyx annealed together in a very particular process. This allows us to create that depth and that ability to illuminate below while having the strength needed for a commercial setting.”
JVG created a customised control system using the ENTTEC Pixlator to control the backlight to each tile individually, creating endless possibilities. “We hosted a fashion show where we only light up the runway,” Daniel elaborated. “Or we can write people’s initials in lights if they wish to hire out the venue for the night.”
Downstairs in the Piano Bar is an even more impressive lighting display. Here, beneath the magnificent chandelier, which is an artwork in itself, the entire bar is composed of backlit ‘gunsmoke’ onyx, painstakingly matched and worked into a sinuous form that creates a uniquely atmospheric radiance.
For any hotel development, location is everything and Emporium’s prime site is actually in the centre of Anthony John Group’s three-tower Southpoint development.
“Southpoint was initially conceived some 10 years ago when we won a government-run international design tender, which enabled us to develop this land,” Daniel recalled. “The development is separated into three vertical cores. The south core contains the Emporium Apartments as we call them; the hotel is in the middle; and then the Emporium Residences on the other side.
Clearly, the site offers multiple advantages for Emporium’s accommodation, function and F&B offerings. A three-minute stroll from the gilded kinetic artwork that encircles the building will see you walking through the doors of the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Veer a little westward and another three minutes brings you to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the heart of Brisbane’s cultural district. So both corporate travellers and tourists were prime targets in Emporium’s marketing plans. Then, just 18 months after opening, the Pandemic struck and everything changed. So while we wait for normality to return, it’s natural to ask ‘who are you aiming to bring through the doors today?’
Daniel John: “If you ask me three years ago, prior to opening, I would have given you a much different story. Given how Covid has transformed the hotel scene over the last year, we’re finding a rapid change in our clientele. Where we had room densities of 1.1 (meaning approximately 1.1 person, per room, for every stay) we’re now up to 1.9, meaning that we’re predominantly seeing couples and the like come through. Guests are heavily biased to leisure on the weekend, but also we’re starting to see the corporates come back. There’s no set demographic that we’re targeting. We don’t price ourselves out of the five star realm either and we do that on purpose. We want everyone to experience the hotel.”
Daniel is emphatic that his product is resonating with the Queensland market.
“We are finding a huge local market. Prior to Covid, international stays were probably 20, 30 percent while the balance was mostly national. As it stands today, we have repeat customers who live down the street — and that’s purely around the limitations Covid has placed on people trying to have an experience away from home. So we’ve been seeing a lot of stay-vacations and we guess we’ll see that trend continue in the coming six months. We’re very happy to see more Australians staying here and enjoying the product.”
Given the success the relocated brand has enjoyed, the natural question is whether that success can be replicated elsewhere. “Yes, we are looking to do another Emporium hotel, hopefully in the near future,” Daniel declares. “We think we’ve established a very strong independent brand for Queensland, and we really want to try and grow that further.”
Understandably perhaps, Daniel is less forthcoming about the exact direction we should look for the next distinctive capital ‘E’ nameplate. “It’s hard to say. We’ve been looking at [the] Sunshine Coast and we had a look at the Gold Coast. Obviously now with the market in the state it is, there’s a lot of competition for sites and it’s definitely inflated. I would love to do something in Melbourne and Sydney. And now would be a great time to get in with the idea that in the future those cities would recover. But again, we want to make sure when we do build in the next place that it adheres to the attributes we want, which is boutique luxury.”
Wherever the ‘E’ lands next, you may be sure it will make an impact.