|By Chris Flores, Daily Press, Newport
News, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 21, 2008 - When Williamsburg-based MHI Hospitality heard the former Radisson hotel in downtown Hampton was for sale, the publicly-traded real estate investment company realized it was a perfect fit.
"Our investment philosophy is to find well-located hotels that are under-managed or under-capitalized and under some sort of distress," said Drew Sims, CEO of MHI.
After more than a decade of problems with the former owners and extensive taxpayer involvement, the city of Hampton sold the hotel to MHI in April for $7.8 million. In the past week, the hotel officially became a Crowne Plaza as a $3.5 million renovation by MHI is nearing the home stretch.
The lobby and restaurant look brighter and sport new furniture. In the rooms that are finished with their overhaul, the furniture has been replaced and upgraded, and each room now has a flat-screen 32-inch television. The carpet was replaced and even the old wallpaper was torn off to make the walls more appealing.
"We sanded it down, placed nice texture on it and brightened it up," said Don Davis, the new general manager who was brought in prior to the renovations to oversee the transformation.
Even the bathrooms are getting new counter-tops and bathtubs have been swapped out for new walk-in showers with the signature Speakman showerheads used at all Crowne Plazas. Much of the investment in the hotel was to bring it to standards set by Crowne Plaza, which also emphasizes its amenities to promote good sleep. When the previous owners could not meet the Radisson standards, they were forced to drop the brand.
"That was the key through the whole project," said Davis, "to bring it into 2009 and bringing in the Crowne Plaza brand, which is growing."
The affiliation with the brand, part of the InterContinental Hotels Group, also brings in travelers who use the company's rewards program. The reservation system used by IHG, which also has the Holiday Inn brands, brings in a large chunk of business from people looking for those brands when they travel to an area.
"They have huge distribution, and as a result, will deliver a lot of business to the hotel through the reservation system," said Sims.
While the transition in ownership and leadership was going on and construction work was under way, most of the employees from the past regime remained.
"They really stuck it out through the tough times of the hotel," said Davis.
Construction is still ongoing, and should be done by December. About 66 of the 173 rooms are done. The deck around the pool, which is on the roof parallel to the second floor, is getting resurfaced and will get a new covered area that can be used for receptions that overlook the marina.
MHI looks for renovation projects, because they are still typically much cheaper than building from scratch. When MHI finally looked at the Radisson, it saw a hotel that needed work but had good bones in a location the company typically shoots for -- waterfront.
"It was not in very good shape," said Sims. "It had lost its Radisson flag. No capital dollars had been put back in for years because of the financial distress."
The reaction to the new-look hotel by businesses and institutions that often need hotel rooms has been "extremely positive," said Sims. The new operators found out that a number of important customers like Northrop Grumman, Langley Air Force Base and even nearby Hampton University had stopped recommending the hotel to visitors.
"When these kind of folks don't use the hotel, it triggers a precipitous decline," said Sims.
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