By Mike Pare, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 6--An $11 million upgrade of the Read House is about 25 percent done as developers restore the historic hotel, double the size of a planned Starbucks and prepare to reflag the site as a Sheraton.
"It's not a Band-Aid job. It will be an old hotel but have a very new look," said Jack Ward, an owner of the 78-year-old building.
The lobby of the hotel at Broad and M.L. King Boulevard is undergoing a large-scale revamp. The renovation includes removal of the mural-like wall coverings of Civil War moments. Hotel officials are in talks to transfer them to the Chattanooga Regional History Museum.
As part of the update, the lobby will have wireless high-speed Internet access in the public areas for the first time, said David Falor, chairman of Chicago-based Falor Companies, which is managing the hotel.
"This will be an all-brand new hotel ... with respect to certain historical touches," said Mr. Falor, whose company specializes in breathing new life into hotels.
The area off the lobby that included the former Yacoubian Tailors clothing store is being redone into a Starbucks coffee house. Its size is more than doubling from original plans to 4,000 square feet, said Mr. Falor. Starbucks likely will start operations in April and have a May 1 grand opening, officials said.
A Porter's Steakhouse restaurant is being built on ground level. It will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and seat about 100 people. Also off the lobby will be a new boardroom, officials said.
A 25-foot by 50-foot indoor pool will be built near the Chestnut Street side of the hotel. A 1,200-square-foot exercise area also is slated.
Meeting rooms on the next level up are receiving a refurbishing, including the Silver Ballroom. New larger mirrors are installed in the ballroom along with fire-safety sprinklers.
The former Continental Room is being redone and renamed the Terrace Room.
Faires Jorges, the Read House's director of sales, said an adjoining outdoor area to the room will be improved and converted from a putting green.
Mr. Falor said each of the Read House's guest rooms is being redone, and the hotel will in fact have 241 when all the work is finished by early summer, up from 238. Each room in the hotel will be upgraded for Internet service, and many will receive more lighting.
"We're doing everything we can to make the hotel comfortable," said Ms. Jorges.
Read House officials said they've been trying to limit the work to begin in mid-morning to not upset guests.
But Charlotte Nordyke, of Baton Rouge, La., said Friday that while the hotel will be impressive when finished, she had to move from one room because of a strong odor she believed was related to the renovation.
"There is a lot of construction," she said.
Mr. Ward said "a glitch" that involved some construction workers not being paid on time has been fixed. Officials said all the financing for the project is in place.
Debbie Wittman, the owner of the nearby Steamboat restaurant on Broad Street, said that after the work is done, the hotel ought to do more business, which could bring more customers to her eatery.
She said she doesn't see the planned new restaurants as direct competition, adding that her business caters to the business lunchtime crowd.
Ken Hays, who directs the nonprofit downtown development group RiverCity Co., said the Read House work is a continuation of the upgrade to the central business district.
"People don't usually make investments where stuff isn't happening," he said.
Mr. Ward said the switch in the hotel's name to Sheraton Read House won't take place until most of the work is done.
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