Opinion: Will “Rock and Roll” Hotels Hit the Sunset Strip?

The Sunset Strip (Photo courtesy of Visit California)

DEEGAN ON LA—“California Dreaming,” the 1960’s Mamas and Papas hit that has added an evocative phrase to our vocabulary, could become elevator music for a collection of rock and roll themed hotels on the Sunset Strip, if it ever came to that.

Hard Rock Hotels, which they have branded as “Made for Music,” describes its two dozen hotels around the world as being “rooted in the spirit of music.” Another nine are coming soon. They have proved that theming a hotel is not just for the Las Vegas Strip: maybe it could also work on the Sunset Strip, which is deeply rooted in music with legendary spaces like the Roxy, the Whisky A Go Go, the Rainbow Bar and Grill, and the Viper Room.

What a Sunset Strip attraction a collection of rock and roll hotels would be, with brand extensions for already iconic brands—imagine: The Viper’s Guest Rooms, Rainbow Dreams, On the Roxy,

or Whiskey Nights, each with guest rooms and suites available for your party and play, or comfort and dreams. Like Hard Rock, they could eventually franchise into other locations, referencing their Sunset Strip legacy.

The kickoff to the “wonderland” of this dream is the proposed new hotel at the Viper Room site, where noted architect and 2005 Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne and his Morphosis Architects, wants to combine a fabled location (the Sunset Strip), and a well-known club brand (The Viper Room) into elements of an ambitious dream that developers are imagining, and neighbors are resisting, in a storied corner of West Hollywood.

The 15 stories high mixed-use project at 8850 Sunset Boulevard would become what Morphosis describes as a “re-envisioned, larger Viper Room with recording studio” and a 5-star luxury hotel with 115 hotel guest rooms, plus 31 condo units, 10 units of affordable housing, a restaurant, a bar, and retail spaces. 

Is this just an extension of the saturation of hotels on the Sunset Strip, and does West Hollywood really need more hotels? The answers could be “maybe” and “yes,” when you look at the economic impact hotels have had on the finances of West Hollywood, and what a leading role they play in sustaining “the creative city”.

Illustration of the proposed mixed-use hotel project at 8850 Sunset Blvd. (Morphosis Architects, courtesy of Silver Creek Commercial Development)

We may not separate out “bed taxes” that are a part of our hotel bills when we travel, but the politicos sure do. The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) charged by a West Hollywood hotel throws off 12.5% of the gross hotel room rent. It’s an easy stream of revenues to be caught by City Hall.

In 2018, West Hollywood received $24.8 million in Transient Occupancy Taxes (on hotel room rents of nearly $200 million), second only to the $25.2 million of Property Taxes. Sales taxes came in third at $18.0 million. Taken together, these three revenue streams accounted for 80% of the city’s general revenues. The bed taxes, alone, contributed one-third of the city’s general revenue. They are that significant.

The twelve hotels that were reported in West Hollywood’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report are incredibly important to the financial health of West Hollywood. An addition of four “rock and roll” hotels on the Strip, comparatively, could bring in $40 million annually in bed taxes. The voice of a representative ownership coalition of that cluster could be amplified way beyond that of individual hoteliers, giving them magnified political power in the city.

Annual financial reports by the city show that bed tax revenues have more than doubled (from $12.1 million to $28.4 million), and the number of hotels has increased almost 50% (from 14 to 20), in the past ten years.

No wonder so many hotels are being built…they are not only helping to drive the West Hollywood economy but also provided 1,515 jobs in 2018 which is 6% of the 26,000 jobs in West Hollywood, says the annual report.

And, unlike payers of property or sales taxes, the hotels that pay bed taxes have the ability to band together and lobby for amenities from the city.

What’s not to like? Plenty. The streets are already choked with traffic. Billboard blight is overpowering. Neighbors and community groups are already stressed enough just living with the existing onslaught of construction. They are opposing the Viper Room project and would be expected to fight hard against a notional Roxy-Whiskey-Rainbow collection of hotels.

An advantage for the opponents of this growth is that the City Council of West Hollywood has been elected each term (with two exceptions) in elections where the total number of ballots averaged 5,200. It doesn’t take too many votes to win a council seat; in some cases, not even 1,000 votes.

The hotel building boom was authorized by the City Council, which is the change agent for unhappy community stakeholders. For decades, since the city was incorporated in 1984, it was a closed shop. Until voter-approved Measure C established a limit of three 4-year terms for members of the West Hollywood City Council just five years ago, being a serial city councilperson could be, and often was, a career. For example, one council member, John Heilman, until recently had served 30 years, often as mayor. Another serial seat holder, Abbe Land, was mayor five times in her 23 years as a council member.

Power can go to the people that are able to mount a GOTV (Get Out The Vote) movement behind three “slow growth” candidates that would need (historically) around 1,500 votes each to win the majority of council seats, and then have a majority voice in who the Mayor would be. The existing politicos are not going to kill the growth of bed tax profits and then have to find an alternative cash cow to help finance the city’s operations.

Until that voter pushback, developers and politicos will continue to be dreaming their rainbow dreams.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was shared with WEHOville by CityWatch Los Angeles, Los Angeles’s leading opinion, news and information website, and newsletter.

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Tim Deegan
About Tim Deegan
Tim Deegan, a civic activist and weekly columnist whose "Deegan on LA" weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment and the homeless appears in CityWatch, is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, where he has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.

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Jonathan Simmons
Jonathan Simmons
7 months ago

Well not a hotel, but we had the revolutionary update to music with THE HOUSE OF BLUES.

Probably the biggest draw for the Sunset Music experience for tourists and their money.

Really successful until the day they tore it down to build another generic ugly hotel.

Dr. MeowMeow
Dr. MeowMeow
7 months ago

Require all new development to include within its space some moderately priced (perhaps 75% of market rate) housing for people who work in West Hollywood. For all hotels, require that a significant percentage of their property (perhaps 25%) be be for moderately priced housing for those who work in West Hollywood.

8 months ago

Great article. Here’s the tl;dr –
Runaway hotel development will continue to rape WeHo until residents band together to threaten City Council members with their jobs. If you’re too lazy to do that, get used to stale, already-passé “rock n roll!” hotel themes for the monstrous traffic-choking Dubai megahotels which will ruin your lives.


8 months ago

The city is maturing, the demographics shifting. Rock & Roll, like it or not, is dead. If the city was set on preserving its R&R history (do young people even listen to it in large numbers?), they’d prevent Viper room from being changed or The House of Blues destroyed. This is becoming an upscaled, resort town for the wealthy and creatives. Deal with it (no, I’m not one of them but appreciate the finer things in life too). Hard Rock Hotel is kind of trashy, and trashy West Hollywood is on its way out and tasteful is back in fashion.… Read more »

8 months ago

I was simply pointing that out, not advocating a Hard Rock Hotel. This city forgot its sense of place and now is in search of meaning and direction. While not intending to be harsh, Pin the Tail on the Donkey with consultants producing endless trivia, appears to be the direction. All these nutty concepts are making it less habitable for the folks that originally lived here or chose to live here 20-25 years ago. A city cannot just discard its roots because it wants a change of clothes or financial infusion. Organic evolution is the most stable or by tomorrow,… Read more »

8 months ago

In the hotel scramble, how did the city leaders and planners miss the obvious concept? The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino just opened in Seminole Florida, a veritable cornucopia of rock stuff and memorabilia…….believe it or not……shaped like a guitar. The elephant in the room wound up in Seminole, not West Hollywood.

Larry Block
Larry Block
8 months ago

Rock and Roll themes for new hotels on the Sunset Strip is a great idea. City council and staff have been batting their heads to come up with ways to revitalize the Sunset Strip- from parklets to Rocky and Bullwinkle- but this writers simple notion of Rock and Roll hotels is the best of all- honoring our history and creating a West Hollywood that’s unique and special.

Eric Jon Schmidt
8 months ago
Reply to  Larry Block

Agreed. We should retain as much of our history as possible while also moving forward with new projects. There can be a good balance if done properly. BTW: Rock and Roll is not dead. That’s like saying big band, disco, country and other music is dead. Music is timeless and has played an important role in the history of society. West Hollywood Planning Commission and City Council should take a lesson from the French Quarter in New Orleans where it is illegal to make any structural changes in order to preserve history. They don’t allow developers to influence the City… Read more »

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