News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Dan Gigler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 24, 2004 - If you're dining at the banquet hall at the Terrace at University Boulevard next spring, keep in mind the following rule of etiquette: "Drink not nor talk with your mouth full neither Gaze about you while you are a Drinking."
The 18th century reference from George Washington's "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation" is necessary, because Tom and Valerie Sheehan are converting their contemporary Airport Plaza Hotel in Moon into a Colonial-style bed and breakfast and ballroom. Opening is set for March 2005.
"We want this to be different than anything people have ever stayed at," Sheehan said of the $2 million makeover of 93 rooms in the hotel. "There are not too many establishments that are like what we're going to create."
The inspiration for the overhaul, which will start in June, is twofold.
The entries of each room, which now face a courtyard as in a motel complex, will be made to look like the 300-year-old rowhouses in Philadelphia's historic Elfreth's Alley in the heart of the Old City neighborhood. Elfreth's Alley is a National Historic Landmark and lays claim to being the nation's oldest street.
Sheehan hopes to dress staff in period costumes and may train them in the lingo of the Colonial era.
Each room will have an appropriate Colonial-era theme, replete with antique furniture and four-post beds with canopies, but each will also have its own unique touches. The model is Tara, A Country Inn, which is an Antebellum South-theme bed and breakfast and spa in Sharon, Mercer County.
At Tara, each room is based on a scene or character from the movie "Gone With the Wind."
In addition, the Terrace will have an 11,000-square-foot ballroom, which can be used for weddings or business functions and will be one of the largest spaces in the Airport area.
Sheehan also plans to add landscaping and put a viewing deck on the roof of the hotel so guests can watch the takeoffs and landings of planes at Pittsburgh International, which buzz just over the University Boulevard corridor. One hundred rooms on the hotel's lower wing, which is closest to Route 60, will be renovated and leased to Robert Morris University as upper-class housing for students.
The facility has been an independent business since it was founded in the 1950s, as the Pittsburgh Plaza Hotel, and has retained its autonomy, despite the influx of chain hotels and motels throughout the years.
Sheehan acquired the property in 1990 and prides himself on the hotel's success, despite the competition from national outlets.
He expects that Terrace will meet with continued success, offering a unique, historical country inn feel, while having proximity to a major airport and urban center.
"You'll be able to stay in any room and have a unique experience here," Sheehan said. "We have more of a personalized touch. A chain has to be a chain, and they look the same anywhere in the world, whether it's Hong Kong or Pittsburgh."
Sheehan said that the Internet has leveled the playing field for businesses like his to attract lodgers who visit for both business and pleasure, and that even chain hotels are diversifying to become less mundane.
"Even in New York, chains will have unique names and appearances to make them seem one-of-a-kind. Florida is noted for its independent hotels, and now Disney and Universal are changing their themes to make their places more eclectic and not uniform," Sheehan said.
Sheehan, who has served on the Regional Assets District Board and the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association, splits time between Pittsburgh and his home in Flagler Beach, Fla. He renovated a 75-year-old building there that had fallen into disrepair and turned it into an historic inn in the small town on the Atlantic Coast between Daytona and St. Augustine.
In turn, the new property helped to revitalize the neighborhood.
Township officials hope that the Terrace will do the same here. They are enthusiastic about the one-of-a-kind nature of Sheehan's business and think that it will fit in nicely with their vision of University Boulevard.
"Any type of redevelopment that brings a positive impact to the [University Boulevard] corridor, and embraces what we're trying to do is great," Moon Assistant Manager Jodi Noble said.
Sheehan said that he expects room rates will certainly be less than $100 a night, and is targeting a price of $89 per night.
"We can do a really nice job of construction at that price, while offering good value for the customer."
Just don't try to pay in pence.
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(c) 2004, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.