|By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta
Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Mar. 19, 2007 - Transforming a dilapidated building that was the scene of one of the city's biggest and deadliest fires into a shining new downtown hotel can take a while.
Officials with the Ellis, the new name for the downtown hotel formerly known as the Winecoff, had hoped to have the historic building ready for guests by next month.
But after construction crews got into the building last April and began to pry apart decades-old debris and earlier patchwork attempts at rehabilitation, they found the building required more work than initially thought, said Susan Griffin, a spokeswoman for the building's New York City owner, Kelco/FB Winecoff.
"Until we took the first layer off, we didn't know what we had to do," she said.
Early work revealed challenges like the need to reinforce steel in the structure, replace bricks and repair and waterproof the facade.
"Full-scale new construction didn't begin until last July," she said.
The new date for the hotel's opening is mid-September, Griffin said, with contractors due to finish by Aug. 20.
The rehab will cost more, up to $26.8 million, instead of the $23 million originally budgeted, Griffin said.
When the work is done, the Winecoff will join a growing number of new hotels downtown, most of which are boutiques. New properties in the pipeline include Twelve Centennial, a W hotel at the big Ivan Allen project near the Georgia Aquarium and the new World of Coca-Cola, and a proposed hotel above the old Planet Hollywood site at Peachtree Street and Andrew Young International Boulevard.
Mark Woodworth, executive vice president of PKF Consulting Inc., an Atlanta firm that tracks the health of the hotel industry, said the market will welcome the new business.
"Overall our outlook for the downtown lodging market looks favorable, specifically with the new World of Coke and other downtown projects just around the corner," he said.
The reinvention of the Winecoff as the Ellis -- named after the side street off Peachtree where it sits -- will begin a new chapter for the circa 1913 building. It was the site of the nation's worst hotel fire, a December 1946 blaze that killed more than 100 people.
Five years later, the hotel reopened as the Peachtree on Peachtree Hotel. But by the 1960s, it fell on hard times when then-owner Fred Beazley found it difficult to compete with newer, modern hotels. He eventually donated the building in 1967 to the Georgia Baptist Convention for use as a retirement home after failing to sell it.
In 1981, developer Charles Ackerman bought the building, leading a succession of builders over the next two decades with grand ideas on how to rescue the Winecoff, including turning it into office space and dorms.
For Kelco/FB Winecoff's current work, crews removed fake molding that had been installed on the first couple of floors, poured new concrete slabs and replaced corridor walls while leaving their original positions intact.
The developer replaced every window in the building because they were in various states of disrepair. Many were broken, others were damaged by termites and some were inoperable.
At 15 stories, the Ellis will be considerably smaller than many of the big downtown hotels, which have hundreds of rooms to serve large conventions. It will have 127 rooms, about 10 on each of the 13 guest floors. The Winecoff had 15 rooms per floor.
"They are still smaller than what you'd find in a new box out of the ground," Griffin said of the rooms.
The ground floor will have a lobby and cafe, while the second floor will house meeting space and a restaurant and bar that will look out on a reconstructed balcony that was part of the building's original design, Griffin said. Laundry and other back-of-the-house facilities will be in the basement.
Boykin Hospitality will run the hotel.
While Ellis officials are trying to retain as much of the exterior's original design as possible, they are not being as rigid about decor inside the building. The interior furnishings will have a post-modern flair based on styles from the '40s and '50s, Griffin said.
The reason is simple: to be competitive, a hotel has to give visitors a "wow" factor they can't get at home.
"The trick is to be such a purist that it won't look dated in 10 years," she said.
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