News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Meghan Hoyer, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 4, 2003 - PORTSMOUTH, Va.--The curved marble staircase of the Hotel Governor Dinwiddie is coated in dust. The building's glass door remains cracked in several places, and some first-floor windows are boarded up.
But renovation work on the seven-story hotel -- once the city's most elegant meeting place before falling on hard times -- has begun again. Its owners, who initially hoped to reopen the hotel as a Hawthorn Inn & Suites in 2001, now promise that the nearly 60-year-old building will be finished by spring. Its historic interior is being restored and five adjacent storefronts are to be filled.
"Anyone down here would tell you it's a great thing," said Ken Woolard, president of the Olde Towne Business Association and co-owner of Way Back Yonder Antiques, a block away on High Street. Woolard, like many business owners west of the Dinwiddie, calls the area where the hotel sits the "dead zone."
In Portsmouth's rejuvenated shopping district along High Street downtown, the 500 block -- which includes the Governor Dinwiddie, a former YMCA and St. Paul's Catholic Church -- makes shoppers turn around before they reach stores in the 600 and 700 blocks, he said. A refurbished hotel and shops will lure people instead of scaring them away, Woolard said.
"I'm excited about getting those windows lit," he said. "That'll go a long ways."
Woolard compared the hotel renovation to the construction of the nTelos Pavilion at Harbor Center and the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel and Waterfront Convention Center, the biggest downtown projects in recent years.
In the 1940s and '50s, the Governor Dinwiddie was at the center of civic and social life in Portsmouth, the host to weddings and meetings. But as years went on, its luster faded. It eventually became housing for the elderly and the down-on-their-luck, who were given the option of attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the old ballrooms.
In 1999, the Greater Portsmouth Development Corp., a public-private partnership, purchased the hotel, hoping to encourage redevelopment.
"We thought that redoing the hotel in a first-class manner would help that block," said attorney David Tynch, chairman of the corporation. "It just brings a lot more people to that whole block. Hopefully, that will enhance the other businesses and spin off other renovations."
The corporation sold the building to local hotelier Rajesh Randeria, owner of the Days Inn on London Street and several other South Hampton Roads hotels.
Randeria wanted to turn the building into a 60-room boutique hotel aimed at executives and extended-stay guests, with prices lower than those at the nearby Renaissance. His company, Portside Hospitality LLC, projected the hotel could open by spring 2001.
But once inside, every job took longer than expected. Gutting the building took half a year longer than planned, Randeria said. Then a dispute with a contractor halted work in March. In the meantime, Randeria had purchased three other area hotels, including the Tazewell Hotel & Suites on Granby Street in Norfolk.
Rumors began swirling through Portsmouth that Randeria had lost interest in the Dinwiddie renovation and that it would never be finished. But with work 45 percent finished and more than $2.2 million of the eventual $4 million cost already invested, he said, he had no choice.
The renovations include many historic touches. The original arched window frames will become the lobby's mirrors. The marble staircase will be refinished, and a new bronze front door will be installed. The hanging neon "Hotel" sign along High Street also will be refurbished. Randeria has planned a restaurant for the storefront on Dinwiddie Street, and he said the four High Street shopfronts will be leased out.
He has received interest from a coffee shop and pizza restaurant, but he said he would like to wait until spring before signing tenants.
He said he also received a call from a woman who had been married at the Governor Dinwiddie and was hoping to host her daughter's wedding reception in the new ballroom.
"We're going to make it the place again," Randeria said.
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(c) 2003, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.