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The Westward Look Resort and Omni Tucson National Resort Regain
 4-Diamond Designation Following Extensive Renovations
By Dan Sorenson, The Arizona Daily Star, TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

December 25, 2009 --The Westward Look Resort and Omni Tucson National Resort are on the American Automobile Association's list of Four Diamond resorts and hotels for 2010.

Both were former Four Diamond recipients and were restored to Four Diamond status after recent major renovations.

Omni Tucson National Resort and Spa, 2727 W. Club Drive, and Westward Look, 245 E. Ina Road, are the two Tucson-area resorts among Arizona's five new AAA Four Diamond resorts for 2010. The others are: InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa, Paradise Valley; Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel; and W Scottsdale.

In October, the historic Westward Look completed a $14 million renovation that general manager Alan Klein said was without a doubt a factor in the new AAA Four Diamond rating.

Founded as a dude ranch in 1912 before Arizona's statehood, the Westward Look evolved into a resort in the 1940s, Klein said, "and really grew from the '50s through the '80s, adding rooms."

He said the heart of the original dude ranch still exists, next to the current main lobby.

"We were the longest running AAA Four Diamond in the state. We were up until 2003," said Klein. That's when Triple-A "came in and said, 'You could really use an update,' " he said.

But Klein said the owners at that time felt they couldn't spend the money for a major renovation, and AAA down-rated the Westward Look to a Three Diamond establishment.

"We were purchased in 2006 and they felt this property should be returned to the Four Diamond status it had been all those years," Klein said.

The Westward Look renovation grew from an $8 million to a $14 million project because that was what was needed to bring the facilities up to modern standards, he said.

One of the big items was to gut the bathrooms right down to bare masonry walls and to install new plumbing, travertine and natural wood.

Age worked in the old resort's favor in one way: it has relatively large rooms, the result of being built when land was much cheaper.

The resort's 214 650-square-foot rooms are "250 square feet larger than the average guest room, the largest standard guest room in Tucson," Klein said.

That space allows suite-sized amenities, such as bathrooms with adjoining space and walk-in closets and dressing areas that can accommodate two people at once.

The "amenity creep" that goes on year-after-year, particularly among luxury and resort hotels -- increasingly luxurious and larger beds, huge comforters, mountains of pillows, lush robes and turn-down services with chocolates -- included putting in 42-inch flat panel TVs with elaborate pull-out/swivel mounts so they can be seen from almost anywhere in the big rooms, Klein said.

The $14 million tab also included seemingly small projects, such as blocking guests' view of the resort's loading dock -- things that Klein said just seemed to be needed, but drove up the price.

Omni Tucson's rebound

A $37 million to $39 million renovation at the Omni Tucson National Resort and Spa, 2727 W. Club Drive put the golfers' haven back on the Four Diamond list after a two-year absence.

The Tucson Omni was named a Four Diamond establishment in 2003 and maintained the rating until 2008, when it dropped off during the renovation, resort manager Mario Cuevas said.

Cuevas said the project included renovation of the bathrooms and all the "hard and soft" goods -- wall, window and floor coverings, furniture and beds -- in each of the resort's 79 main rooms. Half of the resort's meeting rooms, the golf shop and its sports bar also were remodeled.

Another addition was Bob's Steak and Chop House, an Omni-owned chain of restaurants.

Roughly 60 percent of guests at Omni Tucson are golfers, but the resort's spa has made it a hit with couples, Cuevas said. He said the spa has held a Mobil (now Forbes) Four Star rating for five years.

He said it's hard to measure the Four Diamond rating's impact on business, because there are many factors that may bring in a customer, including the rating. But Cuevas said he had no doubt that it is important.

Getting Four Diamond status from AAA means passing an inspection from a secret guest making at least one unannounced visit, said Heather Hunter, spokeswoman for AAA Publishing, based in Orlando.

The check list is long, detailed, and sometimes a bit surprising, said Hunter, who went out on a secret visit with an AAA inspector a few years ago. The list includes things such as checking the thread count on bedding and linens and listening to how the staff addresses guests.

There are different expectations at different diamond levels, Hunter said, such as plastic room glasses at One and Two diamond establishments, but crystal expected at Four and Five Diamonds.

At higher-level restaurants, the heft of silverware and even how the tablecloth was placed on the table are considered, Hunter said.

Cleanliness, however, has no limits. "All meet a minimum standard for cleanliness," Hunter said.

Restaurant good as gold

The Westward Look's longtime upscale restaurant, the Gold Room, recently renamed just Gold, remains on the four-Diamond restaurant list.

" 'Room' sounded old, like the Rainbow Room," said Klein, explaining the new name.

Southern Arizona no longer has any Five Diamond restaurants, of which there are only 52 in the nation, said Hunter. The Tack Room and the Ventana Room, both now closed, were Tucson's Five Diamond restaurants, according to AAA's records.

DID YOU KNOW

Artist Haddon Sundblom, a regular winter visitor in the 1930s, did some of his now famous illustrations of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola while staying at the Westward Look and using a Tucson man as a model, the Star's local history buff, columnist Bonnie Henry, has reported.

Some cultural historians credit Sundblom's rosy-cheeked, rotund Coca-Cola- swilling Santa with remaking Santa's public image, displacing the elfin and sometimes coal-wielding character of European traditions.

BY THE NUMBERS

Arizona is tied with New York for the fifth-largest number of Four Diamond hotels and resorts, 43. California has 155, Florida 109, Texas 79 and Ontario 61.

Contact reporter Dan Sorenson at 573-4185 or dsorenson@azstarnet.com

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To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.azstarnet.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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