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Despite Economy, Upstate New York Hotels Renovate -
to Capture Larger Share of Smaller Pie

By Blake Jones, The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

December 29, 2008 - LAKE GEORGE -- On a wintry Wednesday earlier this month, a handful employees at the Holiday Inn Lake George Turf took it upon themselves to clear snow off the dozen or so cars in the parking lot. After 30 years in the industry, the hotel's owner, Turf Hotels President Michael Hoffman, said it's not easy to get employees to go the extra mile, but never has customer service been so important. "We're fighting for our life, just like everyone else is fighting for theirs," Hoffman said.

This year, a recession has delivered a blow to area hotels, and the worst of the pain is expected to be felt this winter. But in spite of the poor economy -- or perhaps because of it -- a number of area hotels continue to invest in their properties with the hope they'll better position themselves for the summer season. Plans to remodel the Holiday Inn began three years ago, with the last phase of the $7 million overhaul expected to wrap up in 2010. Hoffman said he's had his doubts about the timing of ongoing work, though he always returns to the idea that improvements are a win for customers.

"In tough economic times, there are opportunities for good hoteliers to grow their market share," Hoffman said.

In 2007, the Holiday Inn added a third floor with more than 20 new guest suites and upgraded existing rooms. Recently, the indoor pool and locker rooms were torn down to be built back up and reopened in February. And next year, the hotel will begin construction on a new entrance and administrative area.

The hotel's October and November numbers were up slightly over the previous year's pace, which Hoffman cautiously reads as a success.

"We're getting a bigger piece of a smaller pie," he said, referencing the winter closures of some Lake George competitors.

Properties pursuing improvements say the expense now is expected to pay off come spring, when visitors begin to return to the area. At the Clarion Inn & Suites in Queensbury, a major overhaul completed in July allows the hotel to market itself to families and corporate customers seeking more spacious accommodations.

Project manager Laura Kohls, whose father built the hotel 20 years ago, said upgrades are necessary to stay competitive.

"In our opinion, you have to put capital back in every year ... especially in this type of a market and this type of an economy," Kohls said. "This coming year, people really want the most for their money."

Kohls said it will be a year before the hotel can accurately measure the return on its $2.5 million investment, but she's relieved the bulk of the work is over.

"We're really glad we started this renovation ahead of time because now we're better positioned for next year to give people what they want in a hotel," she said.

In Glens Falls, the Queensbury Hotel has responded to the city's revitalization with floor-to-ceiling upgrades in all 125 guest rooms. The $1 million-plus investment is about 80 percent complete. Sales director Michael Consuelo said the 82-year-old property needed a new look to keep pace with downtown, and to continue to meet the needs of the "discerning traveler."

"We realize and recognize the fact that we are part of the ever-changing downtown environment and we want to stay in turn with downtown renovations," he said.

Todd Shimkus, president and chief executive of the Adirondack Regional Chambers of Commerce, said there are benefits to moving ahead with construction in a down economy for companies with access to financing and capital.

"If you can take advantage of the slowdown in the construct industry, you have an opportunity to get more done for maybe a little bit less," he said.

Shimkus hinted at a number of new projects in the works, saying many resorts are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel as soon as the spring and summer.

For The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing, which is currently seeking town approval for renovations, the stakes are high. The Sagamore announced Monday that it will close from January to March because there's not enough business to sustain it through the shoulder season.

Even in the toughest of times, the resort is moving ahead with plans to add guest rooms to the main building and an outdoor pool to the front lawn.

"We're hoping when we come out of this (temporary closure), we'll have some neat things to talk about," said Tom Guay, general manager. "(The important thing is) to go through this downturn and to be able to say to a prospective client, 'We're not going backwards folks, we're putting money into this hotel.' "


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