|By April Taylor, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 24, 2004 - WILLIAMSBURG, Va. After a black-mold infestation following Hurricane Isabel shut down Kingsmill Resort's lucrative condo division in November, it didn't take long for Anheuser-Busch officials to begin a big clean-up of its high-class site, knowing that convention business and tourist revenue was at stake.
"We got creamed by Isabel," said Joseph Durante III, executive vice president and managing director for Kingsmill Resort. "We had room problems, we obviously had landscaping issues, so the day the storm blew out of here, it was an opportunity to put all we could into extensive renovations."
Six months and several million bucks later, more than half the once-infested rooms at the state's largest golf resort are back on line and filling with guests again.
And it all comes just in time for the LPGA Tour early next month, which replaced the long-standing Michelob Championship PGA event last year.
Durante said they had 230 rooms open at the resort now, with 263 to be opened by the women's golf tour, running May 3 to 9. All 444 rooms at the resort will open by July 10, he said.
He called the financial fallout from the mold infestation "a significant amount of capital," though he wouldn't give the exact dollar amount.
But it surpasses in cost and size any other renovation projects in the resort's history, he said, even larger than in 1997 when the company poured $10 million into an expansion of its Sports Club and the addition of a ballroom to its conference center.
"It's without question the largest project we've ever taken above and beyond the ballroom addition," said Durante. "It's not just in rooms, but in tree removal with the golf courses, and we had to repair 3,500 linear feet of shoreline as well as the marina."
Hundreds of rooms at the resort are owned by private owners who rent them out, similar to timeshares.
Apart from luxury suites, the resort has a full-service spa, a 15-court tennis center, a marina and six restaurants.
The remodeled guest rooms they include one-, two- and three-bedroom suites come with new furniture, artwork, wood burning fireplaces, crown molding, chair rails, and European porcelain tile.
Before the mold problem, Anheuser-Busch had prepared to remodel rooms at the golf resort, the largest golf resort in the state, with 2,900 acres along the James River.
But the mold infestation, a health hazard monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, bumped up the renovation schedule. Big trash bins, huge vacuums and a Florida contractor rolled in to get the resort back online from the health hazard.
"All of a sudden, we were working for a company that doesn't have a rooms division," Durante said. "We had to step up and do jobs that are outside of our original scope."
About 125 to 150 workers were either laid off or had their hours cut, Durante estimated.
Now that the resort is open again, many full-time employees have come back to work, he said, but they were able to maintain their health benefits during the shutdown.
Once the women's golf tournament on the River Course ends, the course will be closed for renovations. When shoreline repairs are complete along the James River, a "mini-boardwalk" will be added, extending from the marina to the River Course and looping around the Sports Club.
With all the renovations in the works, they're hoping that the yoga-before-sunrise crowd will bite, particularly women.
"Mom is the one that runs the show and determines the vacations," Durante said. "When she can sit down and say, 'Oh, my God, that's my room, I get the spa, I get shuttle service and access to the park,' it's really a hassle-free decision for her."
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(c) 2004, Daily Press, Newport News, Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. BUD,