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A Tightly Scripted Schedule - Mohegan Sun Renovating Its 1,176 Hotel
 Rooms While Keeping Every Floor Open On Weekends
By Mark Peters, The Hartford Courant, Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Apr. 3, 2007 - MONTVILLE -- At the Mohegan Sun, a renovation of the casino's 34-story hotel is unfolding like a television home improvement show on steroids.

Its title might be "45 Rooms in Five Days."

Floor by floor, contractors and hotel employees are redoing 1,176 rooms in the casino's sleek glass tower. The more than $13 million project includes new carpeting and wallpaper, a fresh coat of paint, a brighter style of linens and drapes, reupholstered furniture, better mattresses and steam-cleaned bathrooms.

It sounds easy enough. But there's a catch.

The hotel can't close any floors on the weekend. Its occupancy rate is currently about 94 percent, making demand too high to take a single room off-line, casino officials said.

That created considerable time pressure for the tribal casino's staff as they planned the first makeover of the hotel, which opened in 2002. They had to choreograph a start-to-finish process for an average of 45 rooms a week that begins at check-out on Sunday and ends by check-in Friday.

"It was a science," said Kenneth Jarka, vice president of hotel operations for Mohegan Sun.

Since the renovations began last fall, workers followed a tightly scripted schedule. It starts with the removal of the room doors for painting, and wraps up with beds being made with new linens.

Before launching the renovation, the casino ran a trial run on the 27th floor to see whether it was possible. They did it with little time to spare. Now, 18 floors later, the workers are getting done with time left over. The project has nine floors to go.

"It is quite a dance," said Doug Chapman, the project manager. "It is a chain of cooperation where there can be no weak links."

Chapman uses nine outside contractors and six in-house departments to do a floor. The steps are numerous, from the overnight steam-cleaning of bathrooms to housekeeping's putting every phone and room service menu back in place.

Early on, the biggest challenge was getting the timing of the painters and carpet layers correct. They had to work at the same time, but faced difficulties when they worked in the same rooms at the same time, Chapman said.

"It took us a few floors to reorganize their procedures," he said.

Last Thursday, the 15th floor bustled with hotel staff in uniform and contractors with caulking guns. The air smelled of fresh carpet. Wet paint signs were ubiquitous.

More than a dozen floors below, in an underground parking garage, a makeshift furniture shop had been set up near a row of long black limousines. Workers from Georgia-based The ReFinishing Touch reupholstered chairs, and refinished nightstands and desks.

Mike Lambert, the crew coordinator, said the workers reupholster 100 chairs and refinish 500 pieces of furniture a week. His employees are living in local hotels, their latest stop as they travel from place to place doing refinishing work.

"I think I've done every military base in the state of California," Lambert said.

Since opening, the Mohegan Sun has had a strong demand for its rooms, at an average rate of $120 a night. The occupancy rate has steadily climbed, reaching about 94 percent currently. That is well above the national average, which the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group, currently puts at 63 percent.

To keep up with demand, the casino is adding 1,000 new rooms as part of a $740 million expansion. The hotel portion of the expansion is scheduled to open in 2010.

Until then, overnight guests have the existing tower. Mohegan Sun, which is owned by the Mohegan Tribe, decided to do the so-called "soft renovation" less than five years after opening the hotel because of a desire to keep the standards of its rooms from slipping.

"We want to maintain our product," Jarka said.

The science of the renovation extends beyond just choreographing the tight schedule. The hotel staff took a similar approach when deciding what fabrics, carpeting and furniture to put into the renovated rooms.

For example, picking a fabric came after a battery of tests. The staff took chairs with various fabrics, soiled them with different substances and wrapped them in plastic. A week later, they cleaned the fabric to see which didn't stain, Jarka said.

Most hotel visitors don't notice the work, which is scheduled to end in mid-June. Service elevators and loading docks make the work nearly invisible. But repeat customers know the renovated rooms are available, and want to stay in them.

"They're all requesting the new rooms," Jarka said.

Contact Mark Peters at mrpeters@courant.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Hartford Courant, Conn.

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