|By Steve Wartenberg, The Columbus
Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 23, 2013--In the hotel industry, the term tired refers to a property that has seen better days.
Using this definition, the Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square was downright sleepy.
"The lobby was very cold," said Steven Groppe, general manager of the hotel, noting that the walls and columns were made of concrete and looked it. "It was like a parking garage where they stuck a reception desk."
But that's all changed. "The recently completed, $9.5 million renovation has turned the once-drab lobby of the Sheraton into a warm and welcoming space, complete with a fireplace, business center and Starbucks.
"The lobby looks fantastic," said Matt MacLaren, executive vice president of the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association. "It has a very modern and inviting feel."
The rooms and suites of the Sheraton, formerly known as the Hyatt on Capitol Square, also were renovated, along with the restaurant, meeting rooms and fitness center.
It's not the only hotel to have undertaken renovations in recent years. Experience Columbus, the city's convention and visitors bureau, has tracked more than $63 million in renovations at local hotels since 2008, including the Hyatt Regency, Crowne Plaza Columbus Downtown and Renaissance Columbus Downtown. And another one is on the way: Driftwood Hospitality Management and Apollo Global Real Estate Management purchased the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Columbus Downtown in December, and it's expected to undergo a $6 million renovation. Several of these projects were inspired by the presence of the new Hilton Columbus Downtown, a full-service, 532-room hotel across the street from the Greater Columbus Convention Center. It opened in October.
"Knowing a brand-new property was coming, it was in the best interests of all the other hotels to upgrade their products in order to compete on a level playing field," said Brian Ross, CEO of Experience Columbus.
MacLaren thinks Columbus now has "the best Downtown hotel package it has ever had."
The Hilton effect was not the reason behind the Sheraton's renovation, Groppe said.
The hotel was built in 1983. It was sold to Florida-based Driftwood in 2011 for $19.5 million and reflagged as a Sheraton.
The renovations began soon after the purchase.
"It was in dire need of renovation, regardless of the new Hilton," Groppe said.
"We had to bring it up to the Sheraton standards," said Bryan Postema, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. "But, it's also fair to say, with a new hotel in the market, you want to look your best."
The Sheraton remained open during the yearlong renovation, as sections of the lobby were walled off during construction and blocks of rooms were taken out of service for upgrades.
The concrete walls of the lobby were painted a warmer color, and wood trim was added, as well as the gas fireplace and plush chairs and sofas complete with built-in outlets for computers and smartphones. The Darby's restaurant in the lobby was closed, replaced by the business center and Starbucks.
"We wanted to create a sense of community, to get people out of their rooms and into the lobby," Postema said.
New carpets were installed in the meeting rooms, and the chandeliers received a much-needed cleaning.
"Some of them were never cleaned, and there was 20 years of dust on them," Postema said. "When we cleaned the first one and turned it back on, it was like a spotlight shining down."
The Plaza lounge, wine bar and restaurant on the second floor was completely redone, starting with the elimination of the large fountain that dominated the dining space.
"It was very loud, so loud people couldn't hear conversations," Postema said. In addition, he said, it leaked down onto the first floor reception desk.
The Sheraton now has 403 rooms, up from the previous total of 400. A suite and two rooms were added.
"In the past, there was an apartment for the general manager," Groppe said, adding that it was turned into the additional guest space.
Other amenities that were upgraded include the Club Lounge, two presidential suites and the fitness room.
The carpet in the fitness room was replaced with hardwood floors, and all the cardio machines have built-in television monitors.
Workout warriors on the treadmills gaze down upon Capitol Square as they run."You'd be hard pressed to find better views," said Ross, of Experience Columbus. "The view from the health club (on the top, 22nd floor) is the nicest you will find at any hotel."The opening of Columbus Commons in May 2011 has helped more than the view from the Sheraton.
"It's been a great business generator and a great added experience for our guests," Postema said. "A lot of 5K races start here, and the Capital City Half Marathon and Pelotonia start here. It's added thousands of room nights."
Groppe and Postema declined to give the Sheraton's occupancy rate, saying it is hard to determine because so many rooms were out of service during the renovation.
The hotel has "realized a significant growth" in the average rate paid per night by guests, another sign of a hotel's health, Groppe said. "But we still need to continue that trend."
The renovations at the Sheraton and other Downtown hotels, and the opening of the Hilton have helped awaken the hotel market in the city.
"It gives us the ability to compete on a national scope," Ross said.
Meeting planners look for first-class hotels, he said.
"That's not an issue (now), and we're fortunate our Downtown hotel community has done the upgrades that give us this advantage."
(c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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