|By Brent D. Wistrom, The Wichita Eagle,
Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 26, 2007 - Oprah's room is out-of-date.
So is Mick Jagger's.
And Dick Cheney, well, he may not have noticed, but that baby grand piano in the suite he stayed in is so yesteryear.
"Nobody uses them for the most part and they take up a lot of space," Hyatt manager Jeff Pace said as City Council members milled about the 17th-floor suite Tuesday, wowing at the views.
But things are changing at the Hyatt Regency Wichita, that towering downtown hotel the city owns and kicked in an additional $23 million to improve a decade ago.
The hotel is poised to consolidate its two restaurants into one, add two ballrooms with river views and, next year, remodel its best suites.
Sometime later this year, the White Rock Cafe that parallels the Arkansas River will become two ballrooms, which Pace said will be an "A plus plus" for weddings.
The small coffee shop outside White Rock will be bumped out into the lobby where guests can get a clearer view of it from the check-in desk, a move Pace said will jump sales by about 35 percent based on what other Hyatts have reported after the switch.
That will leave Southwind restaurant largely intact, but entirely renovated. Leathers, meanwhile, which is something of a hotspot for smoking cigars, will become part of the bar.
And it will probably have a new menu and be renamed -- though Pace isn't sure what yet. It's also not clear whether the restaurant will remain a prime spot for cigar smoking.
Then, in 2008, the 17th-floor suites, which have housed the likes of Oprah, Mick and Dick, will be remodeled with more modern carpet and amenities.
The floral prints no longer cut it in the $650-a-night vice-presidential suite.
The baby grand piano is more obstacle than instrument for most guests in the $750-a-night presidential cove.
Hotel room decor usually only lasts about seven years, Pace said.
Why does all this matter?
Millions of Wichita taxpayer dollars are invested in the hotel.
The city spends its share of the profits from the Hyatt on hotel maintenance and renovations.
In addition, the city collects a tax on every hotel room rented. The more the city collects in guest taxes, the more money it has to attract conventions and tourism that generate more for the local economy.
City Council members and Pace sought to dispel rumors that the Hyatt is losing money -- and only council member Paul Gray showed any real interest in listening to people who may want to buy the hotel from the city.
Gross profits have increased year-to-year since 2003, according to Hyatt's figures.
In 2003, the hotel claimed $2.4 million in gross operating profits.
After a steady climb, the hotel finished 2006 with $4.4 million.
The hotel expects to end 2007 with $5.3 million.
That's driven by occupancy rates that the hotel's external surveys show are better than average for similar hotels in the area.
The hotel shows 75 percent occupancy of its 300-plus rooms in 2007.
The overnighters are mostly conventiongoers and businesspeople, Pace said.
"The Hyatt is doing excellent," Mayor Carl Brewer said. "The Hyatt is probably doing better than any other hotel in the area."
But the city can't pocket or spend that profit on anything outside the Hyatt.
Gray questioned how much of a success story that is.
"How successful is a business that doesn't have profit beyond its reinvestment" and maintenance? he asked. "That's just keeping a machine running."
Gray suggested the city should listen closely to anyone who wants to buy it. But City Manager George Kolb and Pace each warned that another owner might not keep the hotel to the same standards, allowing a downtown cornerstone to erode.
"We fall in love with our businesses," Gray countered. "Once we get into something, we're stuck with it forever."
Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com].
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