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Columbus, Ohio Hotel Reborn:  Westin's Great Southern
 Updated Without Neglecting its Character, History
By Mike Pramik, The Columbus Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 22, 2008 - The owners of the Westin Great Southern hotel have welcomed the historic property into the 21st century by emphasizing the past as well as the present.

Workers painstakingly renovated the marble floors in the hotel's expansive lobby and ballroom, turning the surfaces from broken and murky to sealed and shiny.

Meanwhile, the hotel's rooms were brought up to date to Westin Hotels & Resorts' latest specifications, including an uncluttered design, high-definition televisions and Westin's "Heavenly Bed."

Marcus Hotels & Resorts and Waterton Commercial, the hotel's majority owner, recently completed $9.6 million worth of updates to the Great Southern, which last had a design overhaul more than two decades ago, said Bryan Postema, director of sales and marketing. The changes included the renovation and rebranding of the hotel's restaurant, which is now called High Street Grille.

The Great Southern has flown the Westin flag since 1996.

"I think it's a very special place," said Sue Brush, senior vice president with Westin Hotels. "We always valued it because of its historic nature. We have a different design aesthetic since that hotel joined us, and this hotel has been able to take advantage of that look and feel."

Westin's new rooms look uncluttered. They're free of large, heavy furniture such as armoires, and they eschew the outmoded draperies that used to frame the windows. In their place are silk Roman shades and streamlined furniture that support the new televisions.

Visitors will immediately notice the sheen of the renovated marble floor in the lobby, which has a tall ceiling capped with a skylight. In addition to the floor, the Corinthian capitals atop columns that ring the lobby also were restored, a salute to the hotel's 111 years of existence.

"Most of what we did in the lobby was to bring back its original character," Postema said. "They don't build them like this anymore."

Yet there are also plenty of modern touches. For example, there is now a revolving door at the building's High Street entrance, replacing sliding doors. The lobby has a new ventilation system with large registers behind the reception desk.

"It was always either too hot or too cold," Postema said.

More modernity is evident in the new basement workout room, which is about 1,000 square feet. The old exercise room was in what used to be a guest room.

The owners also ridded the hotel of the spa that had temporarily set up shop there, replacing that space with a 1,500-square-foot Presidential Suite that goes for $2,500 a night.

As might be expected, the hotel's occupancy slipped a bit during the parts of 2007 and 2008 when floors were unavailable during the renovations. Through October, the Westin reported occupancy this year of 65.5 percent, slightly lower than average for Downtown hotels.

That should pick up, now that the renovations are completed, said General Manager Alan Stegman. While the Great Southern, or Westin Columbus as the hotel chain calls it, doesn't directly benefit from convention business because of its location, it is one of only two full-service Starwood Hotels in central Ohio and the only one Downtown.

That helps attract its cash crop of business travelers. So does the property's 12,000 square feet of meeting space. Further, the 4,200-square-foot ballroom can accommodate 350 people and is the site of about 50 weddings a year.

"It needed the renovation but it still has that historic designation," said hotel analyst Eric Belfrage, president of CB Richard Ellis Hotel Group. "With the new courthouse, and the new park improvements and the city moving down there to the Lazarus (office) space, all those things are really positive for them.

"It will probably be around for another hundred years."


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