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Marriott's Camelback Inn Slowly Transforming; $45 million Makeover at the 72 Year Old Resort
 Includes Laurent Tourondel's BLT Steak

By Donna Hogan, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 27, 2008 - Marriott International CEO Bill Marriott on Wednesday celebrated his 76th birthday and touted the partially completed $45 million makeover of Camelback Inn, his favorite hotel.

"I first came here in 1948 with my parents when I was 16," the top executive of the global hotel company said. "I bought it in 1967. It had 170 rooms and no air conditioning. It was a small, seasonal resort."

Marriott said he hasn't missed a birthday at the AAA five-diamond-rated Paradise Valley property in 40 years.

But midway through a massive makeover, the venerable resort at the foot of Mummy Mountain is now a rabbit warren of construction sites and temporary fences.

The 453 guest rooms are finished, and so is the new ballroom, said Ralph Scatena, the resort's general manager.

The Camelback Inn lobby is temporarily set up in a large suite, and only one three-meala-day restaurant is handling the winter crowd.

In the works is the redo of the main lodge, including the addition of two restaurants -- one of them New Yorkbased, chef-driven BLT Steak, the highly rated steakhouse-French bistro created by Laurent Tourondel.

Tourondel showed up to wish Marriott "Happy Birthday" Wednesday but couldn't cook because his kitchen is still a mass of steel and wood uprights slicing through the open air.

Also planned for the main lodge is an indoor-outdoor bar, Scatena said, with as much space clustered around outdoor fountains and fire pits as under cover.

The idea is to create a high-energy, exciting, social environment, Scatena said. That's a must for meeting planners, he said.

"Groups are looking for social space, and we want people to be outside enjoying nature," he said.

The whole makeover -- including the BLT Steak -- is expected to be completed on June 24, Scatena said.

The work was expected to be completed months earlier, but Scatena said the delays haven't hurt high-season business. Camelback Inn warned guests when they made reservations about the state of the resort and gave those who opted to come anyway a slight discount, Scatena said.

"But we are still high-priced and very busy," he said.

While the makeover preserves much of the charm of the 72-year-old resort, including the old adobe bricks and walls, Camelback Inn needs to cater to a faster-moving, youthful traveler, Scatena said.

Marriott said despite his fond memories of the old place, he's happy with the renovations. He said, however, his father would never have OK'd the changes.


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