|By Tony Lombardo, The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 21, 2005 - Anyone entering the Partridge Inn's P.I. Bar & Grill better have on a hard hat and tool belt.
The restaurant has been gutted as part of the century-old hotel's first phase of renovations, scheduled for a late December completion, general manager David Jones said. The first phase also entails repainting the exterior and refurbishing the ground and first floors.
Even with these renovations, the hotel continues to operate and sell out, he said.
"We're doing it in phases so we didn't have to close the hotel for a lengthy period of time," Mr. Jones said.
The renovations come immediately following the sale of the hotel to Atlanta-based investors, Walton Way Hotel LLC. The principal, Rick Patton, bought the property from Montana-based Partridge Place Associates with hopes of making the historic inn a destination hotel. To manage the property, he hired the Atlanta-based West Paces Hotel Group, founded by Horst Schulze, the former president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.
Construction workers have already begun ripping out old ceilings and aged carpet on the two floors. Painting will soon start on the exterior. The new owners have selected a light yellow to replace its current peachy color.
The plan is to halt construction after the first phase to prepare for the Masters Week boom. By that time, the P.I. Bar & Grill will be complete and ready to host partygoers.
The restaurant will have a permanent buffet installed, a big screen television and a private dining room that was once three hotel rooms, Mr. Jones said.
The lobby, on the ground floor, is also being overhauled. To make it more spacious, the hotel offices next door have been removed and the walls are coming down, Mr. Jones said.
While the lobby is out of commission, a check-in station has been erected in the former Bambu restaurant, which fronts Hickman Road. The restaurant and bar is also operating out of this section. After the first phase is complete, owners are considering converting the former Bambu space into a spa, Mr. Jones said.
The hotel's offices are now located across the street in the Bon Air Apartments, along with a ballroom that the Partridge Inn has leased in the former hotel to provide additional gathering space.
"It benefits both the Partridge Inn as well as the Bon Air in generating revenue to continue daily operations," said David Gates, the Bon Air's property manager.
In the two weeks since the Partridge Inn signed the lease, 21 events have been booked for the Bon Air's Terrace Room, Mr. Gates said. The Bon Air, which houses elderly and people with disabilities, just spent about $48,000 in renovating the ballroom, Mr. Gates said.
When renovations are complete at the Partridge Inn, the offices will remain across the street, Mr. Jones said.
"There's no reason to move them back. It gives us more usable space within the building," he said.
While two meeting rooms are under renovation on the ground floor of the Partridge Inn, these should be ready to host meetings by November, Mr. Jones said. In the meantime, the inn is using the penthouse to hold small gatherings.
After Masters Week, the second phase will begin with the renovation of the rest of the hotel's 145 rooms. Bathrooms will be completely redone and the interiors will be renovated. This should be completed by late summer 2006, Mr. Jones said.
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