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Lexington, Kentucky Hotels Expand and Renovate for World Equestrian Games

By Beverly Fortune, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 30, 2009--Lexington's two major downtown hotels -- the former Radisson Plaza and the Hyatt Regency -- are undergoing major renovations at a time when several other area hotels are updating and expanding, aiming to have the work completed for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

And six new hotels, either already open or soon to open, will add hundreds of beds to the city's supply of rooms.

The former Radisson's $13 million face lift includes gutting and redoing all 367 guest bedrooms and bathrooms and new paint, wallpaper and lighting fixtures for the grand ballroom, meeting rooms and hallways. New carpeting will be laid throughout. Cafe on the Park will be gutted and redesigned.

Across the street, the 365-room Hyatt Regency Lexington has finished 85 percent of its $16 million project to refurbish guest rooms, public meeting spaces and the swimming pool.

Peter Lewis, president of W Madison Properties, which bought the Radisson last year, gave a personal tour Wednesday.

"I want this hotel to be light, cheery and elegant," said Lewis, taking a hands-on approach to the renovation. His company is based in New York, but he spends one week a month in Lexington. "I have to be around and make sure the execution works," he said.

What Lewis calls the centerpiece of the hotel will be a three-story blue mosaic wall at the foot of the escalators, with water sheeting down the wall. Four large sculpted horses will extend off the wall.

"We're somewhat in the entertainment business," Lewis said. "I want this hotel to be beautiful and friendly, so when people walk in, they feel happy."

By the first of October, when 50 percent of the rooms have been renovated and the public areas redone, the hotel -- now called the Lexington Downtown Hotel & Conference Center -- will be branded a Hilton Hotel. It already is a Hilton affiliate, meaning guests can make reservations through the Hilton reservation service.

At the Hyatt, the Glass Garden restaurant and lobby bar will be reworked next spring, said John Gennuso, the Hyatt's director of sales and marketing.

The 30-year-old hotel is in the same complex as Rupp Arena and the Lexington Convention Center.

"The hotel was definitely in need of renovation," Gennuso said. He called it "perfect timing" that the work could be completed in time for the 2010 games.

The Gratz Park Inn, a 41-room downtown boutique hotel, began extensive renovations when new owners assumed control two years ago. "We're pretty close to being half finished," said Zedtta Wellman, general manager. The inn is on schedule to complete its work "so we can put on a good face for the 2010 games," Wellman said.

Beyond downtown, other hotels are making a push to expand and update.

Hotels typically renovate rooms on a six-to eight-year cycle, said Mike Curd, president of the Bluegrass Hospitality Association.

With the potential of thousands of guests needing lodging, owners have more incentive to fix up and enhance their hotels "because you're getting a pretty instant return," said Curd, who is also general manager of Holiday Inn North at Newtown Pike and Interstate 75/64. "Owners are going to see a substantial bump in revenue in that time period."

Curd said, "We all want our product in the best shape possible for this event."

The Marriott's Griffin Gate Resort, about 3 miles from the Kentucky Horse Park, site of the World Equestrian Games, finished a $22 million overhaul in 2008. The work included a 7,000-square-foot spa that offers body wraps, facials and a steam room, plus a 5,400 square-foot Paddock Tent for special events.

The renovations and expansion were carried out to keep the Marriott competitive, said Marci Krueger, director of sales and marketing. "We want to take care of our customers and grow our business in Lexington" for the future, not just for 16 days next year.

"I don't know of anything built specifically with the World Equestrian Games in mind," said David Lord, president of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I don't think anyone went out to invest any tremendous amount of money for 16 days. It's just 16 days. They want to build for the future of the market," Lord said.

He said he was not worried about the supply of hotel rooms. Lexington has many more rooms than Jerez, Spain, where the games were held in 2002 or Aachen, Germany, site of the 2006 games.

Lexington will have more than 7,000 rooms by the time the games roll around, Lord said. "Add in the rest of the Bluegrass region, like Georgetown and Frankfort, and you get up to 10,000 pretty quickly."

When the Louisville and Cincinnati areas are included, the count rises to 52,000 rooms.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251


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