|By Mike Heine, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 9, 2005 - FONTANA, Wis. -- Since 1963, the Abbey Resort and Fontana Spa has been an icon on the western shore of Geneva Lake.
It's still there today, but with a whole new look, inside and out.
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a $40 million renovation of the 90-acre site.
General Manager Peter Walstra couldn't be more happy or relieved.
"For me it's even more (exciting) because of the fact that I used to work here in the 1970s when the hotel was at its pinnacle," Walstra said. "To see it dwindle over the course of time and then to have to have the opportunity to come back and resurrect it and renovate it has been quite rewarding."
For the last decade, the Abbey, which is owned by Anvan Corp. of Oak Brook, Ill., was losing customers and market share, Walstra said. In order to compete with other resorts in a 50- to 75-mile radius, something had to be done, he said.
The resort closed last November and most of employees were laid off during a nearly total reconstruction of the facility.
All 334 guestrooms were updated with new amenities such as flat screen televisions, new bathroom fixtures and high-speed Internet connections.
Restaurants were refurbished with new menus and new looks.
Recreation and pool areas increased in both size and number.
All 40,000 square feet of conference room space was renovated to accommodate today's technological needs of companies and private parties.
The Fontana Spa received a face-lift of its own.
The first walk into the new lobby is perhaps the most revealing.
"It's a changed look and a changed atmosphere," Walstra said. "It's not only physically changed, but it's much more upscale and more contemporary. With this whole restoration, there's a whole new spirit to the staff and the hotel in general."
The Abbey reopened April 1 after an extensive training program for new and existing employees, Walstra said. There will be more people working at the Abbey now-a total of 500 in season and 250 out of season-than in years prior to the renovations.
"We're bringing them up to four-star standards," Walstra said.
"The Abbey has never been rated a four-star hotel," he added. "We currently are not rated a four-star. That's a process. It's not like you build a hotel and become one, but that's what we're aspiring to do. We set up the hotel's product and service standards for that."
"I don't see why they couldn't be," said Janette Maxwell of Williams Bay, who was visiting the new Porto restaurant at the Abbey.
Janette and her husband, Marshall, were both impressed with the new looks throughout the facility.
The renovation plans didn't skimp on the details, Janette said, noticing such small things as stylish new plates and glasses used in the restaurant and decorative plants and lights around the bar.
"They did not miss anything," she said.
Walstra said he's heard many "wowed" comments from resort guests.
"It's been favorable," Walstra said of the response. "I really feel that as this hotel was dwindling for years, I think a lot of people stopped coming. There's been an anticipation of people wanting to come back here, but due to a lack of service, quality or whatever, they just didn't come.
"There was some pent-up anticipation here. In the first 30 days (since reopening), the excitement has been more than I anticipated. People are loud when they walk through the doors."
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.
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