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Marriott Hotel's Renovations Exemplify Salt Lake City's
'Downtown Rising' Amid Challenging Times

By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 5, 2009--Windows off the north side of the Downtown Marriott Hotel afford striking views of construction activity on the City Creek Center project.

It's an appropriate viewpoint, given that a $7 million face-lift makes the Marriott the first project in downtown Salt Lake City's renovation that is nearly completed.

"We are the first thing to rise out of 'Downtown Rising,' said Marriott's local sales and marketing director, Bob O'Neill, citing the catch phrase for the downtown makeover bankrolled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some work remains on the 16-story hotel east across West Temple Street from the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Hotel General Manager Steve Lundgren is holding off on sprucing up the facade because "it's still so dirty with all of the construction on City Creek [Center]." But the lower building's exterior, at eye level for pedestrians, has been updated. So have the lobby and registration desk, the restaurant, lounge and an in-house Starbucks coffee shop.

Most importantly, Lundgren said, the hotel's 510 rooms have been given a fresh look, at a cost of almost $13,000 each.

"People upgrade their homes and linens, lotions and potions, and hotels have to keep up, too," O'Neill added.

Renovations started in 2006 with the installation of larger, better-insulated and more sound-proof windows, an important feature given the presence of hundreds of workers and six large construction cranes

on the City Creek Center parcel next door.

After that, Lundgren said, the hotel focused on determining what was important to its primary customers. Being so close to the Salt Palace, the Downtown Marriott is often headquarters hotel for convention groups and business people -- visitors who often stay an extra day or two to take advantage of Utah's skiing and other recreational opportunities.

Marriott put in desks that swivel off a hinge on the wall, letting users position it so they can watch TV or look out the window while working. Power outlets, telephone jacks and hookups for DVD players were installed just above desk level because, Lundgren noted, no one liked to "crawl under furniture to plug in."

The "jack pack," as it is called, is popular because it allows the 37-inch, high definition, flat-screen TVs to be used off of a laptop computer, large enough to display spread sheets. "It's also popular with the younger crowd" watching music videos, he added.

Bedspreads were replaced with duvets, bendable LED lamps were hooked to the headboard on each side of the bed so one person can read while another sleeps. Carpets and wallpaper are new, in a light-yellow and red color scheme described by Lundgren as "happy and alive."

In the shower, curved rods have been installed to keep curtains farther from bodies, clean towels are tucked into openings in the granite counter around the sink and small plastic signs hanging from faucets encourage guests to save water, just as plastic bags next to the room's garbage cans are available for recycling papers.

"People are very sensitive to 'being green,' more and more all the time," Lundgren said.

The hotel's seven suites also were upgraded for social functions and business meetings that association executives often conduct while their conventions are under way at the Salt Palace. "Outdoor Retailer will take all of them," O'Neill said, referring to the twice-a-year trade show.

Finding a hot cup of coffee is not a problem. The Marriott has its own Starbucks franchise in the lobby, a breakfast lounge on the 16th floor and complimentary tea-and-coffee packages in the rooms. "Some people need their coffee even before they get downstairs," he added.

The lobby is still dominated by its skylights, which let in an abundance of natural light. But Lundgren believes it fills the room more now that the floor is now a reflective white marble. The reception desk now boasts a granite top, while a pioneer mural mounted on the wall behind it was replaced with paintings of Utah's majestic mountains.

"When we looked at our other art, it was all connected to the beauty of the mountains more than to the community's history," Lundgren said.

It's a community that continues to change, he noted, with new liquor laws and Salt Lake City's discussion of creating a hospitality district giving extra impetus to optimism spawned by City Creek Center and his hotel's upgrade.

"This is going to be the best downtown in America. The blocks all around Temple Square and the Church Office Building will be so beautiful -- and our improvements will complement that," Lundgren said. "If the city adopts some sort of hospitality district with a concentration of restaurants and lounges, it will just enhance what we have going on here."

DiamondRock Hospitality Co.

Based in Bethesda, Md., this real estate investment trust owns the Downtown Salt Lake City Marriott and 19 other hotels. All are Marriotts, Hiltons or Starwoods. They have 9,600 rooms.

DiamondRock upgraded its entire hotel portfolio with extensive capital investments since 2006, including $35 million this year.

The company's financial report for the quarter ending March 27 showed a net loss of $5.3 million, or 6 cents a share, compared to earnings of $5.2 million, or 5 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenues fell to $118.5 million from $132.9 million.

Quarterly occupancy levels at the Downtown Marriott fell 14.8 percent (to 58.3 percent), second-biggest decline among DiamondRock holdings. Its average nightly room rate dropped just 1.3 percent from the previous year, the best showing among company hotels.


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