|By Arlinda Smith Broady, Savannah Morning
News, Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 2, 2009--The grandeur that wowed Savannah nearly 10 years ago, when the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa opened in time for holiday parties and a much anticipated tourism boost, is now in its second incarnation.
The hotel recently completed a full property renovation with all-new guest rooms, meeting rooms and public spaces.
Before opening in December 1999, the luxury property had booked more than $16 million and more than 200 meeting groups.
It was the "in" place with local companies such as Gulfstream Aerospace and Great Dane Trailers as well as national trade groups such as the Telecommunications Industry Association and the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Transportation booking meetings there.
It's that kind of early response that has allowed the hotel to maintain its current status and one of the reasons despite the economic downturn to keep with plans for remodeling.
"The long-term value of a hotel isn't just dictated by bricks and mortar," said Mark Spadoni, general manager of the Westin. "Customer loyalty is what makes a great property even better."
In the life cycle of a hotel of the Westin's caliber, it was time to freshen the look, Spadoni said, even though it's been a tough year for the industry as a whole.
"We reserved our capital resources and scheduled for this a long time ago. ... Even with the slowdown in the industry we decided to stick with our plans," he said.
The previous golds and raspberries have been modernized with sages, chocolates and tans. The breathtaking views of historic River Street and the Savannah Harbor are emphasized through intimate seating arrangements, grouped around the structure's dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows, dressed with minimal window treatments, which allow natural light to filter throughout the lobby.
The award-winning design team from Montgomery Roth took inspiration from the property's expansive art collection and the existing architectural details.
A decade ago, local observers predicted the development would have powerful and long-lasting implications for the future of the city.
"It will be like stepping on the gas pedal with the tourism market," said John Neely, co-owner of Neely-Dales Commercial and Industrial Real Estate in Savannah back then.
Neely said the growth in convention business arising from the Westin will fuel construction of even more hotels in downtown Savannah.
At the time of the Westin's grand opening, even the existing convention hotels in downtown Savannah weren't complaining much about the new competition. The new property wasn't expected to drive down rates for existing hotels.
And hopes were abounded that it would help bring bigger conventions that Savannah would otherwise lose, because it could not meet demands for top-notch rooms.
Those predictions have proven true.
The Westin is often the headquarter hotel for many major conventions, spurring more growth and development across the river to downtown Savannah.
It's no coincidence that Avia has recently built in downtown and the Bohemian is close to being completed, said Joseph Marinelli, president of the Savannah Area Convention & Visitor's Bureau.
"Our research shows that about two-thirds of visitors come back to Savannah multiple times," he said. "It's properties like the Westin that focus on hospitality and attention to detail that bring them back."
Although Marinelli couldn't say how the current season will end, he is confident that when the economy fully rebounds, the Hostess City will be ready.
"We could wait until everything's back to normal to upgrade, but being ahead of the trends will keep us in the minds of convention planners," Marinelli said.
In celebration of its complete re-creation, the Westin Savannah Harbor is offering a limited-time "Renovation Package" to invite visitors to help it celebrate its grand reopening. Called "New Inspirations," the package starts at $199 and includes an automatic upgrade, a $100 resort credit and two passes to the Telfair Museum of Art's three sites. For information, go to www.westin.com/savannahrenew.
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