Renos that rock

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

The $110 million reno…

Imagine having $110 million to spend to make your hotel look absolutely amazing. That’s how much the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place’s recent expansion and renovation cost. Mind you, it’s now Hyatt’s fourth largest hotel in the world and the fourth largest hotel in Chicago, and that amount provided a new guestroom tower and renovated outlets, meetings and public space. 

Here’s what they did…

Located next to McCormick Place Convention Centre, the hotel was originally built 15 years ago. The owners, Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) were forward thinking, and put in an elevator shaft back then for what would one day become the new tower.

Their mandate revolves around constantly attracting and bringing business to the McCormick Place Convention Center. And for many years, the show management has wanted a true flagship property at the Center to help make it the premier meetings destination of choice in North America.

In December 2011, they started to build the 459-guestroom North Tower. Then they expanded and renovated the hotel lobby, including a brand new front desk area. They they renovated all 800 guestrooms in the existing South Tower. These received new soft and hard goods, designed in the same modern, yet residential style including the same furniture, fixtures, design and inclusions of the new tower.

Hyatt Regency’s McCormick Place outlets were also renovated, including Shor restaurant and M/X lounge, which underwent a seating and buffet expansion and added a second private dining room. The hotel’s coffee shop, the Daily Grind, has been expanded and now features a new “fresh market” concept, which offers homemade breakfast and lunch items, using ingredients that are sourced locally. Daily Grind continues to serve a variety of coffee drinks, along with specialty snacks both healthy and indulgent.

“Involve the stakeholders”

And what’s GM Paul Daly’s advice for a successful renovation?
“Involve the stakeholders,” Daly advises. “The first step we did was really brilliant—we involved stakeholders in the design process. It wasn’t just the Hyatt design team; we turned our guests into planners. We got that feedback, gathering and listening to see what they want in the public spaces. Overwhelmingly, since we are North America’s largest Convention Center, hosting people from all over the world, the primary goal is networking. When we thought about the public area, we included varied seating options and communal tables—it’s an environment people are comfortable meeting in.”

New look for Canada’s largest hotel

Canada’s largest hotel, the Eaton Chelsea (formerly Delta Chelsea) in Toronto, is larger in size than the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place (1,590 rooms vs. 1,259). And while the Chelsea didn’t have a $110 million budget, they have made some dramatic changes to the newly-rebranded property.

The Eaton Chelsea is one of four Eaton hotels falling under the umbrella of Langham Hospitality Group. They encompasses a family of distinctive hospitality brands which include hotels, residential serviced apartments, restaurants and spas, located on four continents. The Group currently owns and/or manages 17 hotels under The Langham, Langham Place, Eaton and 88 Xintiandi brands with more than 20 hotel projects currently either confirmed or under development.

The Eaton Chelsea’s recent renovations included a bright, welcoming lobby, Market Garden Restaurant and several new Eaton brand signature features, at a cost of $7 million. GM Ron Pellerine says the renovation incorporates the Eaton brand’s key features—comfortable living, connectivity, sustainability and convenience.

One of the Eaton signature features is a vertical garden, located just inside the hotel’s main entrance. The designers took the signature wall concept further, adding a rippled wave effect behind the front desk, “very art deco, modern and trendy,” Pellerine says. Those renovations took just two months, starting in May, 2013 and finishing by July 1 in time for the summer rush and official opening as the Eaton Chelsea.

Like the Daily Grind at the Hyatt Regency, the Market Garden Restaurant offers a variety of dining options—it’s quick, convenient and comfortable with grab-and-go options. It features an Eaton brand signature, the “Express O” Coffee Kiosk, offering patrons a ‘plug n play’ option while enjoying a beverage on comfortable and modern high-level seating.

Tracy Ford, director of public relations, says it is a modern take on the 1980s Marché concept. “It’s what you are seeing in restaurants like Bymark—it’s bright and spacious, whereas it used to be dark. There are different seating areas, from a travellers table for four, to high seating with bar stools, where guests can plug in and charge their computers.

“And,” she adds, “we are the only downtown Toronto property in the 3.5 to 4-star category that offers free WiFi.”

The T|Bar (formerly the Elm Street Lounge), another Eaton brand signature, was also included in the lobby renovation. This vibrant and visible hot spot offers a lively location for friends and business colleagues to enjoy a well-known Canadian cocktail— the Caesar. James Cushinan, bars and lounges manager, has launched an Eaton ‘spin’ on this popular mixed drink, including clamato juice made in house.

Further renovations include extensive interior upgrades to all function and meeting areas.

Exterior changes include a roof renovation and changing concrete balconies to railings on the original 1975 building at a cost of $9 million.

“Communication is essential”

“Communication is essential to making it all happen,” say Pellerine and Ford, especially since the Eaton Chelsea underwent not only a renovation, but a change of management and brand culture.

For the 800 full- and part-time staff—essentially unchanged from Delta Chelsea days—the key was a “fun team” chaired by Ford, which staged events that included even those people not connected on e-mail, making sure everyone was part of the branding and physical changes taking place in the hotel.

Fun team events included constructing Canada’s largest birthday cake (4,000 pieces!) and a Langham Fair with food from every country where Langham has hotels. There was a carnival with games and cotton candy, and a contest where people earned points by correctly answering questions about Langham and the Eaton brand.

“Everyone felt like they were in the loop,” says Ford. “We haven’t had a flash mob yet, but it might happen!” she adds.

Pellerine says there were bi-weekly calls with Langham head office, and weekly meetings with PowerPoint presentations they could share with their team.

Communication with guests was also key.

“We  had to section off areas—drape them and then work behind the drape. We had team members in the lobby 24/7 to direct and help guests—especially when we had to cut the front desk area in half or move the airline check-in.”

Historic resort’s $1.3 million makeover

The Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa is one of Canada’s treasures—a 145-room, elegant, historic golf course property with a main lodge and cabins overlooking the dramatic tides of the Bay of Fundy. The golf course  is a mirror image of Muirfield, the course used for the British Open.

The hotel, which was established in the late 1800s, has a storied history that includes its use as a WWI officer’s training facility, a fire in 1928-29 and a visit from Babe Ruth in 1942.

It was one of the great CP hotels until 1965, when the railway left and the government of Nova Scotia took over. The government owned and operated the hotel up until 2001, when it decided to have New Castle Hotels & Resorts take over the management.

Over the past few years, GM Rene LeBlanc was charged with a $1.3 million renovation.

LeBlanc had a huge wish list—he wanted to add an indoor recreation area with a waterslide, for example—but in the end, spent much of the money on furniture, fixtures and equipment, bedding, carpets and TVs to accommodate the clientele. The dining and lounge areas also got a facelift.

“Balance the historic and modern”

At a property such as the Digby Pines, the main challenge is “to try to balance the historic and the modern,” says LeBlanc. The renovations included adding new furniture in the lounge. They created the 100-seat Churchills Restaurant and Lounge in place of the former Annapolis Dining Room. The floor was redone with ceramic tile that has the feel of wood.
Upstairs, an area called the Veranda was totally redone with new flooring, mirrors and fixtures.

And, like the Hyatt Place and Eaton Chelsea, the Digby Pines is constantly working to upgrade its wireless. “We have fibre-optic service, and we use Solutions IP to manage the signal,” LeBlanc said.

“Four years ago, we spent $10,000 on a system. People crashed the system, so we pulled it out. This new system cost $70,000. There are challenges with some phones and iPads, but in most cases, the front desk can fix the problems.”

One of LeBlanc’s pet projects is the public space washrooms. “I’m a carpenter by trade and one by one, we’re  trying to redo them.”

They also doubled the size of the gift shop.

LeBlanc credits success of not just the renovations, but the Digby Pines as a whole to a loyal staff who have come back each season year after year. The are only four all-year, full time positions at the resort.

“We are very fortunate to have 10 people on our management team with a combined 120 years of experience. This is their place—they own this place—they own it, live it and breathe it.”

Delta PEI’s huge transformation

Zubair Siddiqi, GM of the Delta Prince Edward hotel adjoining the PEI Convention Centre in Charlottetown, is proud of the huge transformation of the hotel’s lobby and restaurant, designed by Kara MacGregor of MAC Interior Design, Halilfax.

“Our ownership group, InnVest REIT, wanted the lobby and restaurant done in time for the [adjacent PEI] Convention Centre opening Aug. 1,” Siddiqi notes. Instead of a formal front desk, they installed a pod system that is more user friendly. The bar, which was tucked away before, is now the lobby’s showpiece.

“It’s amazing that people on their way to a gala stop by and have a drink. Or they can sit at a table and have a meal. It’s a very friendly space that  transitions from lobby to lounge.” There are 168 seats in the lobby space.

“Create a sense of place”

The Delta Prince Edward has completely changed to local and regionalized bar and culinary offerings. At the bar, seven out of eight beers are regional, with five from PEI.

“There’s a sense of place,” said Siddiqi, adding that there are far more guests and locals driving afternoon traffic at the bar.