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Life is full of Surprises and Uncertainties for Shirley Brown, Former Front
 Office Supervisor at the Shuttered Adam's Mark Hotel in Charlotte

By Leigh Dyer, The Charlotte Observer, N.C., The Charlotte Observer, N.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 24, 2005 - Most people might get discouraged if they found out their job was ending the week before Christmas.

But not Shirley Brown, former front office supervisor at the now-shuttered Adam's Mark hotel in uptown Charlotte.

"This is business, and unfortunately things sometimes don't always fall in places that are comfortable," she said during a conversation Friday in her living room, still bare from a recent move.

"Life is full of surprises and uncertainties, but you have to roll with all of those things and not let them stop you."

Brown, a single mother of three sons, had been on an upward career path since last year. She needed a change from her job as a nursing assistant -- "It just consumed me too much," she said -- and turned to Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont for help with training for a new job.

In early 2004, she joined the inaugural class of the agency's hospitality training program. Of about 20 students to start, she was among seven to graduate. The course included rigorous reading and computer training and included interviews with panels of representatives from local hotels.

Brown, 44, was attracted to the hospitality industry because of its potential for rapid advancement. She got job offers from both the Adam's Mark and the Charlotte Hyatt at SouthPark. She chose the Adam's Mark, because she loved the property's distinctness and the decidedly un-modern feel of its woodwork and ballrooms. "I just fell in love with it. It had a sort of aristocratic look you don't see much of in 2005," she said.

In September 2004, she started out as a front-desk agent and a phone operator. In less than six months, she was promoted to supervisor of the entire department, overseeing 18 people.

But Brown knew changes were coming to the Adam's Mark. It had been for sale for a long time, and its owners weren't investing in it. Guests complained about outdated wallpaper and furniture.

Brown's response was to focus on service. When travelers were surprised to find they couldn't get high-speed Internet access in their rooms, she'd let them use the computer in her office to check e-mail or print out airplane boarding passes.

Comment cards from guests showed the strategy worked, she said. "A lot of times I think the staff offset the complaints," she said.

But over the summer, the hotel's inspection grade from the Mecklenburg County Health Department fell from a 100 to an 87. The report noted leaky and dirty bathrooms, stained mattress covers and malfunctioning ice machines, county records show. That was a blow to the staff's morale, she said.

"We were standing behind a product that was inferior," said Brown.

Summer also brought a change in ownership. New York-based Chetrit Group LLC bought the Adam's Mark and the neighboring Cameron Brown Building in a $47 million deal. They disclosed plans to renovate the office building, but stayed mum on plans for the 613-room hotel.

Brown heard rumors the hotel would be torn down. She hoped for a renovation. In the fall, she was featured in the Observer's Giving Guide, a look at local charities, as someone who'd benefited from Goodwill's services.

In late October, employees received two months' notice that their jobs as Adam's Mark employees would officially end Dec. 23. The new ownership hadn't yet disclosed whether they intended to operate the hotel after that. So most people started looking for new jobs.

Brown decided to stay.

About 10 days ago, Brown's patience was rewarded: The Chetrit Group told employees it had hired New York boutique-hotel owner Amsterdam Hospitality Group to transform one of the hotel's two towers into the trendy Blake Hotel. It's scheduled to be updated with wireless Internet, flat-screen TVs and stereos with iPod docking stations, and owners hope to open it Feb. 1 with nightly room rates between $129 and $355.

Plans for the second tower are unclear; the Chetrit Group and Amsterdam Hospitality couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

The remaining Adam's Mark employees were told they could apply for jobs with the Blake. Many of them intend to do so and have taken part-time jobs or are using up paid vacation time in the interval, Brown said.

After honoring commitments for Christmas parties last weekend and checking out the final guests, the hotel closed Monday -- four days earlier than Brown and other employees had thought.

Brown planned for the upcoming transition by managing her savings, she said. She hopes to assume her former post at the new hotel. She believes remaking it will bring back loyal Adam's Mark customers.

"The Adam's Mark hotel is definitely a prime piece of real estate," she said. "I would love the opportunity to stand behind a quality product and be able to sell it full force.

"I feel I deserve every right to be a part of this new hotel."

Leigh Dyer: (704) 358-5058

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Copyright (c) 2005, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

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