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Makeover Going on Inside Roanoke's Flagship Hotel;  $6.5 million Face-lift is
 the First Total Renovation Since the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
 Reopened in 1995
By Jenny Kincaid Boone, The Roanoke Times, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 26, 2007 - Long workdays aren't unusual in the lodging industry.

In the past few months, however, some employees at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center have had more than their share.

As late as 11 p.m. some days, a renovation team that includes Director of Property Operations R.D. Wright has stayed to measure armoires and desks, move electrical outlets and contemplate what furniture should go where in 150 hotel guest rooms.

General manager Gary Walton also has pitched in.

"I've been through every room several times," he said.

There's a makeover going on inside Roanoke's flagship hotel. The $6.5 million face-lift is the first total guest room renovation since the Hotel Roanoke reopened in 1995. Previously, it had been closed for six years before being acquired by the Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation. The original hotel was built in 1882.

Seventy-five rooms at a time are closed while workers strip walls and floors, lay new carpet and replace all furniture. The hotel is spending $19,000 per room, with May 1 as its deadline to complete 150 in the first phase.

The second phase of renovations for the remaining 181 rooms will begin in the first quarter of 2008, a season when business typically is slower at the hotel.

The Hotel Roanoke, created with an English Tudor look, is incorporating certain modern trends, though its designer said the rooms still have touches of historic qualities.

Spending for renovations has increased at hotels across the country as many turn to trendy and boutique-like features, similar to some used in the Hotel Roanoke's revamped rooms. Some exclusive hotels even have hired design executives from retailers such as Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn for help creating new looks for guest rooms.

The cost of hotel renovations nationwide was forecast to increase in 2006, totaling an estimated $5 billion compared with $4.8 billion spent in 2005, according to the most recent data from PricewaterhouseCoopers, an industry research firm. Many hotel rooms now have high-speed Internet access, in-room treadmills, stair climbers and exercise bikes, and iPod-docking alarm clocks.

The $6.5 million budgeted for the Hotel Roanoke's renovation is more than hotel officials expected, mainly because of the rising costs of construction materials and the labor required to convert the rooms of various shapes and sizes to a new look, Walton said.

There are 80 to 90 different room designs in the hotel's first phase alone. It's difficult to find two rooms that are alike. And that means it's nearly impossible to use a one-size-fits-all mold for the furniture.

"You lose some economies in production because you can't do 300 of one item," Walton said.

"The reality was that those armoires fit in some rooms ... in some [other] rooms, it was really compact and tight," he added.

The smallest rooms at the Hotel Roanoke have single queen beds. They move up in size to rooms with two double beds, some with king beds and suites with several bedrooms.

The hotel's bathrooms manifest the most dramatic changes. They're supposed to resemble what designer Jillian Van Dresser calls a "powder room."

Forget the formal and stark white countertops that line many hotels' bathroom walls. The Hotel Roanoke's new bathrooms have a single cabinet with a sink and a black granite countertop surrounding it. The vanities have drawers to hold toiletries. Hair dryers aren't attached to the walls.

The vanity cabinet is painted dark red with a gold swirl design.

"You have a sense of being" in the bathroom, said Van Dresser, a native of Blacksburg who has created the new room design. She's been working with the hotel for the past year and a half.

You also won't find the coffee pot sitting on the bathroom countertop. Doubletree Hotel's new standards take coffee stations out of the bathrooms and into the guest rooms. In some of the Hotel Roanoke's new rooms, the coffee pot and cups are placed atop a cabinet. Doubletree Hotels manage the hotel and conference center.

The bed features at least five pillows propped up against the headboards that also show off the Hotel Roanoke emblem.

White bedsheets are turned down, allowing just enough space to show off the puffy pillows. There's a contrasting bright red throw, rather than a full bedspread, folded at the end of each bed.

Armoires stand in some of the rooms that don't already have closets. But the long mirrors on the doors aren't typical. They're fitted with antique glass, which is an example of using historic style, Van Dresser said.

The antique glass "takes the shininess off the glass," she explained.

Many of the rooms have flat-screen televisions, a high-tech addition found in most hotel rooms today.

And all furniture is a dark wood color, custom designed piece-by-piece by American of Martinsville. There are five to six pieces of furniture in each room.

The look of the corridors also is changing with new carpet and wall design.

The new look is sharp, but it comes with a pretty price for consumers.

Nightly rates for the newly designed rooms have not yet increased, but Walton said they likely will rise once the entire renovation is complete, although he wouldn't estimate how much.

Right now, a typical night at the Hotel Roanoke ranges from $119 to $199.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Roanoke Times, Va.

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