|By Diana Leone, The Honolulu
AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 1, 2009 --PRINCEVILLE, Kaua'i -- Today's reopening of the Princeville Resort, upgraded in a yearlong renovation to the elite St. Regis brand, is good news for an island with almost 10 percent unemployment.
In addition to employing 350 people directly, the resort will stimulate more retail, food and farming jobs on Kaua'i's north shore to serve St. Regis clientele, said Randy Francisco, Kaua'i Chamber of Commerce president.
"The St. Regis will bring higher-end visitors ... a new class of spenders to the island," said Francisco, who planned to be at grand opening festivities, along with Gov. Linda Lingle and Kaua'i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.
The St. Regis opening and other business expansions around the island are creating a "synergy" that Francisco said he hopes is the beginning of economic improvement for the Garden Island. He listed the opening of the Kukui'ula Shopping Center in Po'ipu last month and the opening of the 121-room Koa Kea Hotel and Resort (the former Po'ipu Beach Hotel) earlier this year as other signs of hope. Together those businesses probably employ 250 people, he said.
The Garden Island's economy will get another blow in November, however, as Gay & Robinson phases out sugar harvesting and lays off 200 or more employees.
Mitigating that loss is the fact that a significant number of Gay & Robinson employees will retire -- and those seeking work have two likely employers with Kaua'i Coffee and Dow AgroSciences companies, said Bill Grier, Kaua'i branch manager for the Workforce Development Division of the state Labor Department.
Among the amenities added in St. Regis' $100 million redo were: a full-service spa, a restaurant guided by internationally known Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and butler service.
When the resort opened Saturday for a kama'aina preview, "there were 1,000 people standing outside" eager to see the resort's transformation from its former European decor to an understated Hawai'i elegance, general manager Milton Sgarbi said.
Sgarbi's team served light refreshments in the lobby and continuously toured groups of eight to 10 people through the property that day until 8 p.m.
They got to see the Hawai'i-style koa, raffia and coconut palmwood features, the 4,000-piece Murano glass chandelier, the remade pool area and the all-new Halele'a Spa.
Many people's favorite "wow" feature is the liquid crystal shower walls in each room, said bellman Phylo Davis.
With the flick of a switch, an opaque white glass goes to clear, offering the bather a view -- through his or her own hotel room -- of Makana Mountain and Hanalei Bay outside the window. And that's in the 201 standard rooms. For the 51 suites, you get other wows, such as butler service.
More than 96 percent of the hotel's former employees returned to work there, thanks to the company continuing medical benefits for the year they were laid off and drawing unemployment, Sgarbi said.
"They've been doing a fantastic job before," and now have been trained to meet St. Regis' even higher expectations, said Sgarbi, who ran the St. Regis in Bora Bora for the past three years.
Banquet worker Lisa Sellhaver, who has been at the hotel 24 years, said the year off seemed long in some ways, but now that she's back, "it's like we never left."
Rates at the hotel range from $510 to $5,800 a night, according to its Web site.
The Princeville Resort is the 19th hotel worldwide to bear the St. Regis name. The first St. Regis in New York was founded by famed hotelier John Jacob Astor.
Reach Diana Leone at email@example.com.
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