|By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta
Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 12, 2010--More than 1,800 windows and counting.
That's how many glass panels have been replaced so far at the iconic Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel in downtown Atlanta, two years after a twister hopscotched its way through the area.
Sunday marks the second anniversary of the 2008 storm, which blew out windows, mangled parked cars and sent a river of water down some stairs at the Georgia World Congress Center.
The Westin remains the most visible reminder of the freak tornado. Its checkerboard of gleaming smoke glass windows and blackened wood replacements stands out against a skyline offering no hint of that night's destruction.
Work to replace the 73-floor building's 6,350 windows began in September. Officials said at the time the work would take 12 to 15 months. The panels are being installed at the rate of one floor a week.
The hotel has replaced 1,811 panes of glass as of this week, said Westin General Manager Ed Walls. The replacements are heavier than the originals -- 270 pounds instead of 140 pounds -- to meet today's building codes, which are more stringent than when the hotel was built in 1976.
The 1,068-room, silo-shaped tower is one of the city's largest hotels and an important part of metro Atlanta's $11 billion hospitality industry.
The hotel took advantage of the damage to renovate the rotating Sun Dial Restaurant Bar & View, including installing new wheels to keep the dining establishment turning.
The move keeps the hotel competitive with its peers -- the Marriott Marquis, the downtown Ritz Carlton, the Hilton Atlanta and the Hyatt Regency -- which also have been updated.
Hilton Director of Sales and Marketing Edd Karlan said renovations can attract new business. That hotel has seen a 15 percent increase in convention booking interest since it completed its 2009 renovations.
Panther Hospitality Managing Director Paul Breslin said updates like the Westin's and others give the hospitality community reason to take another look at Atlanta.
"Meeting planners who knew us years ago don't know us now," he said.
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