At Hilton: Make Deadline December 17, 2004
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer
Walk through the Hilton in downtown
Hartford these days, and you leave shaking your head.
The lobby, planned as the centerpiece
of the $25 million, top-to-bottom renovation, is still stripped
bare, with gaping openings in the floor for as yet unbuilt elevator
And this place is going to be ready
on March 1 to check in guests?
The developers - The Waterford Group
- confidently say yes, and a lot of people are counting on them:
The Hilton is the host hotel for the Big East women's basketball
tournament, also in the beginning of March.
"You should have seen it two
weeks ago," said Mark Wolman, president of Waterford's construction
operations. "Now the walls are going up and the furniture
is starting to arrive. And you'd be surprised how much happens
the last month."
Waterford's gutting of the 33-year-old
Hilton on Trumbull Street is the most ambitious of three hotel
renovations in downtown Hartford that are in the works or completed.
The spate of hotel redevelopment
comes as the city's Adriaen's Landing convention center nears
its June opening. Hotel owners are counting on bookings from conventiongoers
and a resurgence in business travel following the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Asylum Street, the new, 96-room
Holiday Inn Express opened in January in the former Ramada Inn
after a $3 million renovation. And in the next block, work continues
on converting the old Bond Hotel into a 110-room Homewood Suites
extended-stay hotel, at a cost of $4 million to $6 million.
In addition, cosmetic makeovers are
set at both The Goodwin Hotel and the Crowne Plaza.
The renovations at the Hilton and
elsewhere are a sign that many believe the state-backed Adriaen's
Landing development with its mammoth convention center will spur
on the city's economy and vitality, said Suzanne Hopgood, president
of The Hopgood Group, a hotel consulting firm in Hartford.
"The whole idea behind the convention
center is that it be a catalyst," Hopgood said.
Ever since the Hilton closed nine
months ago, the project has been on a tight timeline, imposed
by an agreement with the city.
Originally, the hotel was supposed
to reopen Dec. 31. But once work began, it was clear that deadline
wouldn't be met because the renovations needed were more extensive
than first anticipated, said Len Wolman, Waterford's chief executive
and Mark Wolman's brother.
Now, as the new March 1 opening quickly
approaches, 100 or so workers are framing, wiring and installing
in two shifts during the week, some also coming in on the weekends.
There is gray dust everywhere, left
over from earlier demolition. Electrical wire hangs in bunches,
waiting to be connected to outlets.
"The box of the building was
fine," Len Wolman said. "But there were some operational
It quickly became clear, for instance,
that the outdated heating and cooling system would have to be
replaced. Individual heating and cooling units in each room were
torn out and are being replaced with a duct system that resembles
Although demolition and installing
new systems have occupied much of the construction so far, the
Wolmans promise a lighter, brighter look for the hotel.
Their designers have chosen beiges
and creams for guest rooms, a stark contrast to the old darker
reds and mauves.
Guest rooms will go for between $189
and $239 a night for double occupancy and include high-speed Internet
On a recent tour, the Wolmans showed
off the Hilton's new presidential suite, which is still under
construction. The 2,500-square-foot suite on the 22nd floor -
complete with oversize Jacuzzi and views of the state Capitol
- is being shaped from six former guest rooms.
Get ready to open your wallet, though:
The suite will go for between $339 and $600 a night, depending
on the time of year.
"Elton John will now have a
place to stay in Hartford," Len Wolman jokes.
Rock stars are accustomed to luxurious
And when John played a multi-night
run in Hartford a couple of years ago, he snubbed local lodgings
and instead commuted to Boston after each show to sleep at the
The Hilton has been marketing itself
almost from the time the renovations began and now has bookings
as far out as 2007. It also hopes to build a following for a meeting
and conference business in newly-renovated space.
Far below the guest rooms, the stripped-down
lobby doesn't look like much right now. But the Wolmans promise
the hotel entrance will become the focal point of the new Hilton.
Starting from the street, guests
will now step out curbside under a new steel-and-glass canopy.
New revolving doors will lead to
a lobby with a contemporary-style fireplace flanked by bookshelves.
A ground-floor restaurant also will
be expanded, bringing it closer to Trumbull Street. The restaurant
will combine an ecletic mix of Asian fusion and deli-style takeout.
Both the restaurant and a bar will have entrances from the lobby
and the street.
"Before, there wasn't much sense
of arrival," Len Wolman said. "This is intended to make
When Waterford took over the Hilton
project a year ago, controversy swirled around the hotel.
Hilton was threatening to pull its
name because former owner MeriStar Hospitality hadn't kept up
A prospective buyer promising a major
makeover was found. But the buyer - The Procaccianti Group - was
a nonunion company that wanted to close the hotel and dismiss
its unionized workforce.
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez stepped
in to exercise the city's right of refusal to block the sale.
Perez then picked Waterford as the redeveloper. Waterford also
wanted to close the hotel but they signed an agreement to honor
the Hilton's existing union contract.
A union organizer now says he expects
"virtually all" the housekeepers, servers and bartenders
and front desk personnel to return.
The contract with the city also called
for stiff fines if construction wasn't complete by Dec. 31: $1,000
a day for the first 30 days, then $2,000 a day thereafter.
City officials say Waterford will
avoid any fines if the Hilton opens March 1 because the contract
also has a 60-day grace period built into it.
Matt Hennessey, Perez's chief of
staff, says the mayor is confident the hotel will open on time.
And despite its appearance, the Wolmans say 60 percent of the
renovations are now complete, including some upper-floor rooms.
Waterford, Hennessey said, has a
good track record, too: It redeveloped the historic Richardson
building on Main Street into a Marriott Residence Inn, the first
hotel construction in the city in a decade. They are also the
master developer of Adriaen's Landing and heading construction
of the new Marriott at the riverfront complex.
And then there is the Big East tournament.
"There is plenty of incentive
for them to be ready," Hennessey said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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