Updated 9:30 a.m.
Guests hoping for breath of fresh air during their stay at the Embassy Suites Philadelphia Center City are in for a disappointment.
Guest room balconies — a defining feature of the circular, all-suites tower just off Philly’s tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway — are no longer accessible.
That fact is not indicated anywhere on the hotel website, which shows balconies through glass doors in photos next to each of its available room types.
“Every suite has a balcony, but all of the balconies are locked for your safety,” a hotel staffer recently said, responding to an in-person inquiry about a potential stay. “It’s been that way since the renovation.”
Asked to elaborate, the hotel employee simply repeated their statement.
A renovation was completed in April 2017, per a press release sent out by Embassy Suites, and was described as encompassing interior upgrades and other cosmetic improvements, such as a flatscreen TV in each suite, sofa beds and complimentary made-to-order breakfast and evening drinks.
Though not included in the release, the refresh also included new locks for the sliding doors leading to the terraces that grace each of the hotel’s 288 suites.
Embassy Suites Philadelphia general manager Steven McClure confirmed to Billy Penn that the locks were part of the recent upgrade.
According to an anecdote from one hotel guest, whose experience is corroborated by dozens of TripAdvisor reviews, other employees at the Philly Embassy Suites seem to have no problem asserting why locks were added to the balcony doors:
The change, staffers told guests, was in response to the recent spate of suicides or attempted suicides at the hotel.
Stickers on each of the guest room balcony doors note that “For Your Safety, These Doors Have Been Locked.”
The most widely-publicized suicide incident at the Embassy Suites was on May 2, 2015. On that date, Sean McGrellis, founder of an organization that provided freelance musical services, fell to his demise from the hotel’s balcony on the 25th floor. In June 2016, another likely jumper from the hotel was mentioned on social media by a Twitter account and a Reddit user, though that event did not make its way into mainstream news.
When asked in 2015 by reporters to provide comment on the McGrellis tragedy, management at the hotel chose not to address the matter. They also did not indicate that any architectural changes were forthcoming in response to safety concerns, or as a method for suicide prevention.
The Embassy Suites isn’t the only Philadelphia hotel to face this dilemma in the past decade. In 2009, 23-year old Zal Chapgar fell from the 33rd floor of the Loews Hotel on Market Street.
But with its highly visible facades on one of the city’s broadest thoroughfares, the Embassy Suites may be an especially attractive draw.
In general, hotels are considered magnets for people considering taking the drastic step of killing themselves.
In a 2014 Lodging Magazine article with tips for operators and managers trying to suicide-proof their hotels, Dr. Steven Stack or Wayne State University explained that his research found hotels are one of a few “lethal locations” where someone intent on killing themself is unlikely to be dissuaded by a loved one to go through with their plan. In that same article, Chad Callaghan, a security consultant and founder of Premises Liability Consultants, describes two types of people who take their own lives in hotels: those who are “despondent,” and those who want to “sensationalize” their death. The latter, according to Callaghan, are the ones likely to jump.
People who come to hotels with the intention of taking their own life are more likely to be local residents, per a 1990 study conducted by the Atlanta Medical Examiner’s Office.
That the Embassy Suites would attempt to curb this behavior is understandable. That the hotel doesn’t mention the balconies are locked when customers book rooms, less so.
TripAdvisor is full of reviews complaining about the change — and the lack of advance notice.
In a November 2017 post titled Don’t let the balcony fool you!, user Bonnieberk noted that “I have been staying in this hotel for years and enjoyed many of the amenities including a balcony to get some fresh air. Unfortunately,” she continued, “they recently locked the balconies and no longer made them accessible.”
User curbanow was less courteous in a review posted May 2017 that ends with an accusation of “false advertising.”
“The rooms have a beautiful balcony which appears in all of their photos,” curbanow wrote, “however when you arrive you will learn they locked it and block you from using it.” The user then recaps a call to the front desk (response: “It’s for your safety”) and notes that despite promising not to jump off it, staff refused to release the locks.
General manager McClure first indicated he was open to discussion, but then became unresponsive. After Billy Penn issued a request for more info to Senwhaa Lim, brand communications manager at Hilton, McClure reached out to decline further comment.
A request for comment from HEI Hotels & Resorts, which owns the hotel, was not returned.