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The $75 million Umstead Hotel and Spa Being Built in Cary, North Carolina,
Sets Sight on Five Star Ranking
By Vicki Lee Parker, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

May 24, 2006 -CARY -- How do you build a five-star hotel? If you're Ann Goodnight, you start with a prototype, a full-scale replica of not one, but two, guest rooms: one in blue and gold; the other in green and beige.

In them, you place every detail that will be in the real thing: furniture, artwork, linens, water sprinklers, vents -- even room-number plates. When you're spending $75 million on a hotel, you want to make sure every detail is perfect.

It's a level of planning that, while not unheard of in the hotel industry, is rare, said Christopher Ostrowski, senior news editor for Hotel Business Magazine.

Ostrowski said most hotel chains, such as Marriott or Four Seasons, have standards on how their rooms are designed. Planners simply follow the specifications. But with an independent hotel such as The Umstead, the 150-room luxury hotel that the wife of SAS founder Jim Goodnight is building on the Cary campus, a prototype is a smart idea.

"You want to see what the room will look like in a real setting, opposed to making mistakes later," Ostrowski said.

So far, Goodnight and her team have used the models, which were built in a small office building about 200 feet from the hotel site, to sort out color schemes, choose between a 32-inch LCD TV or a 42-inch one, decide where to place full-length mirrors, pick a faucet and rethink the paneling for the corridor.

"I visited five-star hotels across the country to get ideas," Ann Goodnight told a group of local businesswomen recently. On one such visit, someone suggested the prototypes. She seized on the advice as a way to achieve the level of quality she wanted, she said.

The Umstead model also includes a short prototype of the hotel's corridor. It has golden brown Anegre wood paneling, manufactured in South America, and recessed ceiling lights. Directly off the hall is a small alcove, giving guests a semi-private entrance into a standard 540-square-foot room. Suites will range from 650 square feet to 1,725 square feet.

Inside the alcove, the card keypad that opens the door is mounted on the wall under the room number. It includes a red light for signaling do-not-disturb and a green light for welcoming housekeeping. Both lights are controlled from a switch inside the room. The pad also includes a microchip that can detect when a food tray has been placed in the hall and automatically signals room service for pick up.

Newspapers will not be left on the floor outside the room; they will be placed in a brown cloth sack that is hung on the doorknob. Just inside the room is a credenza with a refrigerator, a bar topped by a vase with an orchid and a silver ice bucket with a brown leather band. Nearby is the dresser with a 32-inch, flat-screen LCD TV, as well as a CD and DVD player.

All the furniture, including a long U-shaped desk, is made of the same Anegre wood used in the hall paneling. The king-size bed is dressed with 330-thread-count Italian cotton sheets and matching green and beige custom spreads. The bathroom has a double vanity sink, soaking tub, separate shower and private toilet. A small dressing area is just outside the bathroom.

In addition to finalizing plans for the rooms, Goodnight has been putting together an administrative team with staff from top luxury hotels including the Ritz Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, Fairmont Plaza Hotel in New York. Bob Schofield, managing director of the hotel, has years of luxury-hotel experience including at the Raffles L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills and The Hay-Adams in Washington, D.C.

The hope is to rate five stars, the highest rating from Mobil Travel Guide. No hotel in Wake County has a rating of more than three stars, the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau says.

Richard A. Brooks, director of sales and marketing, said the ratings are based on every encounter a guest has with the staff, including valets, concierges, housekeepers and management. And little things matter. Instead of stacking luggage in the hotel lobby, which could distract from the scenery, bellhops will take suitcases up the service elevator and directly to the room.

Brooks said the hotel is on track to have employees in place and start training in November, for a January grand opening. He plans to hire 250. "In those two months, we are going to spend weeks training our staff," he said. "It's going to be very intense in order to ensure that when our doors open to the public, we will be ready to deliver that five-star level of service."

Rooms will be offered at a three-month introductory rate of between $295 to $350 per night, he said. Regular nightly rates will be between $350 and $425, he said.

"The hotel is geared for everyone," Brooks said, "the overnight business traveler, the weekend leisure guest, ladies getting together in the spa suite, and people here locally who want a nice get-a-way for Sunday brunch or dinner."

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Copyright (c) 2006, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

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