|By Dale Quinn, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 18, 2009--The Tucson area now has its Ritz-Carlton, but locals need not don white gloves and top hats to visit the posh resort.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, which is holding its grand opening today, has a distinctly Southwestern feel.
"The hotel is elegant but relaxed, refined yet casual," said Allan Federer, the general manager of the resort and spa.
When visitors enter the lobby of the resort, they'll immediately gaze out upon the rocky, saguaro-studded Tortolita Mountains.
Abstract paintings, with maroon, purple and burnt-orange color splotches, hang above leather chairs and grainy wood decor.
Hohokam petroglyphs, painted on rocks by American Indians hundreds of years ago, are visible to those who lounge poolside at the 17,000-square-foot spa.
To highlight Arizona's geology, the hotel was designed with flagstone and quartzite floors, raw steel fixtures, copper accents, and minerals like geodes and quartz crystal.
Woven leather accents the elevators, and colored stones set in saguaro skeletons decorate an area of the spa.
The cost for a night's stay in the 250-room resort, at 15000 N. Secret Springs Drive in Marana, will vary, Federer said. But it currently ranges from $289 a night to as much as $2,000 for a full casita with three or four bathrooms.
Walking from the lobby, down a staircase with leather handrails, reveals the signature restaurant, CORE Kitchen & Wine Bar, where diners can see directly into the kitchen and interact with Chef de Cuisine Joel Harrington. The resort has three restaurants.
Harrington said it's the level of service that distinguishes The Ritz-Carlton from other resorts.
The chef said he has a passion for food he shares with his staffers, and since he's moved here from Dallas in January he's been inspired by Southern Arizona's natural beauty.
"I really want the world traveler to see what we have here that they can't get anywhere else," Harrington said.
The chef said he's created menu items specifically inspired by the location, including a chili-lacquered New York steak with nopal relish, avocado fries and poblano sauce.
Outside the resort sits a family-oriented pool with splash pad and a 235-foot water slide, along with the pool-side restaurant Turquesa Latin Grill.
Jonathan Walker, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that when it comes to attracting business groups to Tucson the resort adds "another bullet to our gun, and it gives a chance to really go after those high-end groups."
While Tucson has several resorts throughout the area, the market hasn't been saturated, Walker said. "We don't have anything of this level of luxury," he said.
The Ritz is still recognized as a top-tier brand in the leisure business, he said.
"It really elevates our status to have that kind of luxury brand name associated with our destination," Walker said.
Still, Maribel Alvarez, an assistant research social scientist at the University of Arizona's Southwest Center, said such a high-end resort can provide a "mixed bag" of benefits.
"It's really one of those situations where we, as a community, are hard pressed to determine what are the real benefits," Alvarez said.
When it comes to economic benefits, Alvarez said she is skeptical about whether they would spread to many sectors outside the luxury market.
Tucson does already have high-end resorts, she noted, so it can be difficult to get excited about a new one while there are continuing home foreclosures and potential layoffs of city staffers.
But resorts can forge valuable partnerships with local nonprofits and artists, Alvarez said.
Nevertheless, on Thursday there was a high level of energy among staffers at the resort northwest of Tucson.
The Ritz-Carlton has hired about 300 employees and is continuing to add more staffers, said Federer, the general manager.
It's running about 50 percent occupancy in January and 60 to 65 percent in February, largely because of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. There are significant group bookings in March and April, he said.
And while all Ritz-Carlton resorts strive to establish a sense of place, the one in Dove Mountain sets that bar, Federer said.
"We consider this hotel to be a brand builder," he said.
Contact reporter Dale Quinn at 573-4197 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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