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It Takes a Village to Build a Hotel - Denver's New Hyatt Regency
 Hotel at the Colorado Convention Center
By Al Lewis, The Denver Post
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 20, 2005 - IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO BUILD A HOTEL:

Take all those books on how to motivate employees to the trash bin. All workers really need is something to bang on.

I learned this Monday at Denver's new Hyatt Regency hotel at the Colorado Convention Center. The hotel is slated to open today, but Monday there were still construction workers on site, scrambling to put on the finishing touches.

Meanwhile, about 500 new employees gathered in a foyer outside the new hotel's Centennial Ballroom on the third floor. They marched by department -- housekeeping, catering and even accounting -- banging on pots, pans, baking sheets, stainless-steel carts, plastic buckets, garbage cans, shovels, giant spoons and even those yellow cones that serve as "wet floor" warnings.

Some blew trumpets or blasted aerosol-powered horns. Others pounded drums or simply screamed "Whew!" at the top of their lungs.

They paraded around on carts from the kitchen and bellhop station, becoming a swirling mass of ecstatic humanity. Everyone played to their own beat, yet somehow became part of a collective rhythm.

Bodies undulated. Some workers even danced jigs. One group of employees painted themselves as if headed for a football game. It was as if some great tribal culture had landed in the unlikely setting of a big corporate convention hotel.

"It really is kind of a little United Nations here," general manager John Schafer told me.

Getting the hotel built over the past decade sometimes resembled a United Nations free-for-all. Plans to build it privately came and went. Finally, in 1999, voters approved a $261.5 million bond issue. The $285 million hotel, along with last year's publicly financed $310 million convention- center expansion, is part of Denver's strategy to lure more conventions and tourists.

It's been a long and often contentious project with battles involving developers, contractors, hotel-management chains and unions. And now that it's built, observers expect its immediate effect will be to drive down the price of downtown Denver hotels with 1,100 new rooms.

Yet among employees Monday, there was harmony. The hotel has hired recent immigrants from Africa, Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There are Somalians and Meskhetian Turks. Some employees speak only Russian. Others speak only Spanish.

After they took seats in the ballroom, their song faded, only to be replaced by the theme song from "Mission: Impossible." Schafer, their general manager, came down from the ceiling on cables. "Failure is not an option," he crowed, standing on stage afterward. "I'm confident with a team like this, we will not fail." Members of the Hyatt team would be up through the night preparing for the opening of the chain's 216th hotel today. To get the job done, the company had to fly in help from other hotels.

JT Troth from a Hyatt Regency in Dallas was piloting a rolling cherry picker to reach the high ceilings of a ballroom to dust off lighting ornaments. I watched him jerk the machine around and take in a few clouds of construction dust.

Ever do this before? I asked. "First time ever," he said. Most of the time, he works as a beverage director.

Meanwhile, internal-telephone-system supervisor Anja D'Angelo was running through the hotel turning on lights and opening drapes to form a huge, publicly visible number "1" in the windows of both sides of the hotel.

She has been doing this since Dec. 15, counting down the days to the hotel's opening in up to more than 100 room lights each night.

"I've got to go," she told me at around 2:15 p.m. "I'm late. Usually, I start at 2 p.m. I hope I can make it on time." Ayo Joyner has begun her new career running Hyatt's first concierge desk for employees. She previously worked for an organization settling refugees in Denver. She said she will help employees with everything from uniforms that don't fit and lockers that don't open to finding parking spots and day care.

Only a week into her job, she's already facing challenges from her colleagues.

"Somebody was asking for hockey tickets," she said. "I'm not sure I can accommodate that."

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to Al at denverpostbloghouse.com/lewis, 303-820-1967 or alewis@denverpost.com.

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Copyright (c) 2005, The Denver Post

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