|By Dan O'Brien, The Sun, Lowell,
Mass.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 16, 2008 -LOWELL -- Down the hallway, in the conference rooms, out on the pool patio and up on the sixth floor. The message from DoubleTree General Manager Nabil Ghanem is the same.
"New vinyl walls."
"New lighting... energy-efficient lighting."
It's all part of a long-awaited $5 million renovation of Lowell's only downtown hotel. But this time, it's for real. Ghanem said work began last week and the schedule calls for it to be done in 120 days -- July 1 or thereabouts.
"New chairs here."
"A new table over there."
"These chandeliers... they will be all new."
Ghanem arrived in Lowell five months ago and quickly realized that a new look was compulsory. The hotel's owners, Cranston, R.I.-based The Procaccianti Group, agreed.
"It is long overdue," Ghanem said. "Many of these carpets are 10, 15 years old."
He said other projects include enlarging the fitness center, presently a snug 213-square-foot space that sits adjacent to the pool area.
"It will be quadrupled in size," Ghanem said. "And this pool area... a new tile surface."
The new manager said the later stages of the renovation project will include the addition of several amenities to the hotel's 252 rooms, including the insertion of plasma TVs.
"This is what has changed the most" in his 18 years in the hospitality business, Ghanem said. "It used to be that things like wireless Internet were luxuries. Now they're expected. It used to be that any coffee would do. Now it has to be Starbucks."
And so it shall be.
But Ghanem realizes it will take more than physical improvement to enhance the hotel's shaky reputation among various Greater Lowell organizations. He says stories of various service inconsistencies, including malfunctioning sound systems and lighting, will fade into memory as he develops a staff of 130 that he says show "excellent potential."
"It starts with us (management)," said Ghanem, who holds a master's degree in business from the University of Arizona and most recently worked for the Marriott chain. "The way we treat our staff will be reflected in how they treat customers."
"It is important for us to have a strong relationship with the city, with the convention bureau," he continued. "We look forward to working with them."
Count Deb Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, as being among those who are impressed.
"We've had our challenges in the past," Belanger said. "It is necessary for hotels to understand hospitality, that it's important that when people come in that they provide a pleasant experience.
"Nabil understands that."
Lowell Mayor Edward "Bud" Caulfield is also an early fan.
"That hotel is vital to our promotion of downtown Lowell," Caulfield said. "The first thing people ask when they visit is 'Do you have a hotel?' and we are pleased to say that we do. So I am happy to hear -- and the council will be happy to hear -- that it is being renovated to a first-class facility."
Belanger predicted that the renovations will allow the hotel to book more business.
"The fact that this renovation is taking place in tough economic times will enhance his ability to work with the community and with the bureau," she said.
Ghanem, for his part, is convinced that all the work -- physical and developmental -- will be worth it.
"I love to see the smile of a satisfied customer," he said. "That's what I live for."
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