|By Steve Brown, The Dallas Morning
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 19, 2008 - Ray Hammer's shopping list is a bit longer than usual this season. He needs 14,000 bed pillows, 5,000 lamps and 2,000 flat-screen TVs."Just the pillows will fill four 18-wheelers," said Mr. Hammer, the general manager of downtown's Sheraton Dallas hotel.
The 1,840-room property -- the biggest hotel in town -- is getting a $90 million makeover.
Every room will be redecorated, and the skyscraper hotel's public areas are getting major upgrades. The titanic job won't be finished until June.
"Right now, we have a little over 300 rooms in various stages of demolition and renovation," Mr. Hammer said. "And half of our lobby is being redone as well."
The changes in the lobby include a posh new central seating area and a 32-seat high-tech "docking station" lounge for business travelers who want to work on a PC while knocking back some brews.
"A lot of times, when folks travel, they may not want to sit in a lounge or a bar and pick up their e-mail," Mr. Hammer said. "One of the features that's been really missing from this hotel was a seating and gathering area."
Perhaps that's because the Sheraton didn't begin life as a hotel.
Its three towers started out as the Southland Center office complex in the 1950s. In 1998, the 1.2 million-square-foot property was redeveloped into the Adam's Mark hotel.
That renovation of the 42-, 32- and 29-story towers cost more than $150 million.
Open to possibilities
Early this year, California-based Chartres Lodging Group LLC bought the hotel and rebranded it a Sheraton. The new owners wasted no time in drawing up plans for a dramatic redo.
Omaha, Neb.-based design firm Leo A. Daly is heading up the redesign team.
The bright-colored carpets and clunky furniture that dominated the hotel are being replaced with a cool, contemporary palette.
"No matter what we do, when we are talking about 1,840 rooms, they are big numbers," said Mr. Hammer, who also oversaw renovation of the Westin Park Central in North Dallas.
The changes downtown will be apparent from the moment you enter the building. An 18-foot-tall bronze cowboy sculpture just inside the front door is getting the boot, along with a large tropical foliage display in the atrium.
Demolition has been completed on the north lobby, and work crews are busy cleaning and resealing the exterior of the towers.
The hotel's fitness center will get much bigger, and the 38th-floor restaurant -- formerly the Chaparral Club -- will be revamped.
"It's being totally redone as a 4,000-square-foot-plus catering venue," Mr. Hammer said.
There's even talk of reviving the central tower's top-floor space, once used for a signature restaurant -- Ports of Call -- and an observation deck. Now the owners are considering everything from a nighttime venue to a spa, Mr. Hammer said.
"Nothing is off the drawing board."
The timing is right
The Sheraton Dallas redo comes at a time when hotel stays are down nationwide and other businesses are cutting back on capital expenditures.
In October, the last month for which figures are available, overall hotel occupancy in downtown Dallas was less than 63 percent, according to PKF Consulting.
But with construction of a new downtown Dallas convention hotel on the horizon and new cultural facilities opening soon in the nearby Arts District, Mr. Hammer said, it was time for the Sheraton to get a face-lift.
"This destination certainly has a tremendous amount of upside," he said.
And despite the huge expense -- it comes out to roughly $50,000 a room -- renovating the Sheraton Dallas takes just a fraction of the cost of building a new convention hotel, said John Keeling, a hospitality industry analyst with PKF Consulting.
"They will be well under what it would cost to replace that property," Mr. Keeling said. "And that property now is not competitive.
"It has to be upgraded for them to survive."
The hotel business is expected to be down next year, too, but the timing for the refit is good, Mr. Keeling said.
"When it comes to renovation, you try to renovate during periods when you don't have peak demand," he said. "You don't want to be turning away customers when you have rooms out of service.
"In 2010 and 2011, they can come to the recovering market with virtually a new hotel."
At the same time construction work is going on, almost 700 employees are keeping the Sheraton operating to greet new guests.
"This past weekend, we had over 1,000 rooms booked," said Mr. Hammer, who's done stints at hotels in Houston, Nova Scotia and Florida before coming to Dallas.
"And next, we have to get ready for the Cotton Bowl."
THE SHERATON REDO
Some of the items it will take to finish a $90 million renovation of the Sheraton Dallas:
Tile: 150,000 square feet, or 10 truckloads
Carpet: 145,000 square feet, or 18 truckloads
Vinyl wall covering: 172,000 square feet, or 24 truckloads
Drapery: 625,000 square feet -- enough to cover 11 football fields
Bed pillows: 14,488
Coat hangers: 15,720
Duvet covers: 10,024
Framed artwork: 8,420 pieces
Vanity tops: 4,124
SOURCE: Sheraton Dallas
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