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Overton Hotel & Conference Center Staff in Lubbock, Texas
Prepare for "Soft Launch" as Center Nears Completion

By Walt Nett, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 25, 2009--It is Thursday afternoon, and Hunter Carmichael is striding briskly with visitors touring the nearly finished Overton Hotel and Conference Center.

The place hums with power tools and workers who stride just as briskly as general manager Carmichael, it seems, through the ordered chaos of a new upscale hotel approaching opening day.

Outside, landscapers are placing sod for the lawn in one area, while hard-hatted construction workers are cutting lumber near the entry.

Inside, one crew works on the bar surface, while others are engaged in various kinds of cleanup work. Some scale tall extension ladders to clean windows, others put the finishing touches on the entry's tiled floor.

There are no guests yet, but the kitchen is busy; the chef and staff are cleaning up after "rehearsing" all the menu's entrees.

A detachment from the Lubbock Fire Department is on a familiarization tour, getting acquainted with the 15-story, 303-room tower's layout and internal fire-control features.

"The Lubbock Fire Department has sent 80, 85 first responders over here, and I'm glad to see that," Carmichael said.

With so much work going on, it's hard to believe the hotel will be ready to begin its "soft launch" Sunday, and a visitor says just that.

The question doesn't seem to surprise the hotel manager.

"If it's the first time you see this, you don't think it will open on time. When you're here every day, you see the progress, and you know it will be finished," he says.

One of those "see the progress" elements is on the second floor, at the edge of the reception area outside the hotel's meeting rooms. He directs his guests' attention toward a railing and glass-paneled barrier overlooking the reception area outside the ground-floor exhibit areas.

"Two days ago, that was just a cliff," he says.

One second floor meeting room is stocked with room furnishings -- paintings for the walls, accent lamps and taller table lamps in parallel lines on the floor.

"A lot of this work gets done at night," Carmichael said. "I'll be walking along and see something and say, 'Well, that's new.'"

When asked how much walking he does in a day, he said, "I'm always walking," adding that he often focuses on certain areas for a day.

Entering any room, he seems to catalog the contents and the condition at a glance, knowing immediately what's right, and what's out of place.

The hotel will house a few guests tonight, people who had been pre-booked when the hotel was on a construction schedule to be completed two months ago.

That's led up to this weekend, and the Overton's opening with some work still to be finished.

"We're going to open on top of construction," Carmichael said. "We'll have 30 contractors staying in the hotel for a while, so if things don't work, we'll have the people right on it."

Usually, he said, hotels take two or three weeks after the building's done to get the staff acquainted with the facility.

But not here, not now.

"If we can put the two (finishing construction and the soft opening) on top of each other, we can save money," he said.

Orientation classes have been running amid the construction, the chef and kitchen staff have already been getting the feel of the kitchen, and housekeeping employees have been making beds and running linen through the laundry, which includes a unique dryer. It can take a sheet wet from the washer, dry in, iron it and fold it automatically -- in 15 seconds.

While the hotel formally opens Sunday, today is when the staff begins to make the Overton "their hotel" in earnest.

At noon, Carmichael said, all 120 employees will gather to vacuum and turn over every room on the third through seventh floors. They'll inventory the rooms, and put notes about what's missing into the hotel's property computer where, the manager said, things will be easier to track.


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