|By Donna Hogan, The Tribune, Mesa,
Ariz.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 16, 2007 - The former Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix became the Arizona Grand a week ago, the most street-visible sign of its new ownership, outlook and image.
But drive through the sprawling 164-acre property, and there is a lot more evidence that the hotel is in transition.
The formerly dirty-beige adobe style buildings have been painted sparkling white, a new lobby building and 52 villas are under construction, and if you peek into any of the 640 guest rooms, you will see all new decor from the beds to the bathroom fixtures to the basket-weave shutters.
"We gutted the rooms, changed everything," said local developer Sam Grossman, who bought the 21-yearold resort for $206 million a year ago from MONY Life Insurance Company. Grossman said he has spent at least $20 million and plans to spend $32 million more to make the old hotel worthy of its new name.
"We decided to call it what it is, a resort we think is going to be a grand resort," Grossman said. Besides, it was time to dump the name Pointe and eliminate any confusion about the East Valley property's affiliation with two other Valley hotels, he said.
The Pointe South Mountain, built in 1986 and part of a trio that included the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs and Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak, has had no association with former siblings since 2000. Hilton, which managed the Pointes in the 1990s, bought the other two hotels in 1999 but snubbed South Mountain because it wasn't elegant enough. A year later, MONY spent $35 million to upgrade the place and kicked out Hilton management.
Grossman, who bought the then tired Arizona Biltmore Resort in 1991 and restored it to its former elegance, isn't going for the same image for Arizona Grand. He wants to make the south Phoenix resort "fun, friendly and upscale," he said. "We're trying to come in just under the Biltmore (in luxury level) but with the same level of service."
Grossman said he will expand the 10-acre water park by another 5 acres, add new restaurants and shops, convert Latitudes 30 to Pacific Rim cuisine and keep popular Aunt Chilada's and Rustler's Roost intact.
He is building 52 private villas, pegged to sell for $250,000 to $600,000. Would-be buyers already have dibs on 30 of them, he said. The resort will be able to rent villas to guests if owners don't want full-time use of them.
The villas and the new lobby are expected to be completed in about a year, he said.Grossman said he had been trying to buy the old resort for a decade.
He's not concerned about the big outlay just at a time when the housing slump is eroding consumer confidence and disposable income for travel.
"Having been in business for 50 years, we've been thorough a number of ups and downs," he said. "This has been a very interesting and very difficult time. Everybody in the hospitality industry is concerned, but interestingly the hotel business has been staying strong. Our bookings for next year are right on pace."
Grossman is one of the few owner operators of big resorts. Most are owned by large financial backers who hire hotel management companies to run their properties. He said that makes a difference.
"I really care what goes in the soap dish. I care whether the orange juice arrives on time and the candles are lit," he said. "You have somebody in Saudi Arabia or New York who owns hotels in Phoenix. I like to think we are the last bastions of the personal touch."
To see more of The Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.eastvalleytribune.com.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email email@example.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.