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Renewed Hospitality

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Major D.C. Hotel Renovations Benefit Visitors, Locals Alike

There seems to be a big boom in hotel renovation lately in Washington, D.C. Wherever you turn, there’s scaffolding, sawdust and surprises at the hotel door. Is it something in the air, or is this a commonplace part of the hospitality routine? And how does it affect you and your guests?

Although some might find their favorite hostelry shuttered—or cluttered with construction—renovations are common in the hot D.C. hotel market and provide visitors to the nation’s capital with a delightful supply of frequently freshened-up places to stay.

The St. Regis Hotel on 16th and K Streets is temporarily closed, for example, as is the nearby Jefferson Hotel. But recently renovated hotels include a number of boutique properties for the adventurous, as well as familiar favorites that combine comfort with a new look. Here are some updates on the updated and the city’s more notable renovations.

Hilton Washington “The hospitality industry is very competitive, but Washington is the same as other cities” in that respect, said Bobby Turner, managing partner with one of the country’s largest real estate investment firms, the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund.

The “Johnson” part refers to former basketball superstar, multimillionaire and AIDS activist Earvin “Magic” Johnson, part of the U.S. Dream Team at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Recently, California-based Canyon-Johnson partnered with Lowe Enterprises Investors and generated business buzz by announcing the 0 million purchase of a local hotel icon, the 1,119-room Hilton Washington. The hotel sits on a hillside above Dupont Circle and, as befits a behemoth, boasts the biggest ballroom in the city and has been host to some of Washington’s most premier and historic events.

An immediate renovation of more than 0 million is already in the works. “The rooms are tired and dated and not up to Hilton standards,” Turner said. Canyon-Johnson and Lowe will be handling the renovation and managing the hotel.

The planned Hilton Washington update will include design and furnishing changes to guest rooms and public spaces, Turner said, with details currently being worked out. New meeting rooms will be varied and will include a series of smaller event spaces as well as a smaller ballroom. A fitness center renovation will feature a new spa, and there will be a coffee bar with, possibly, a major restaurant addition.

Turner summed up why renovation is the name of the game in the nation’s capital: High costs and zoning headaches tilt D.C. hotels toward freshening up rather than building brand new properties. And the investment climate continues to be favorable, drawing in many private investment firms that can buy luxury hotels, renovate and refurbish them, then sell them at a profit within a few years or less.

Renovation also keeps a property competitive and it pays off. Room rates continue to rise in D.C., a global hub that has built-in government and diplomatic guest lists, offers unique networking opportunities, is a good place for meetings, and attracts tourists from all over the country and the world. Moreover, Washington transportation is excellent, Turner noted, with close airports, and the city offers diverse cultural, entertainment, sports and restaurant venues.

Park Hyatt Washington The luxurious Park Hyatt Washington in the city’s West End describes itself as “intimate and residential in style” and touts its “exceptional interior design.” More than mere hype, the hotel’s million makeover, completed a year ago, lives up to the expectations.

The hotel’s interior design and art offerings, created by New York’s Tony Chi, were featured in the December 2006 issue of Architectural Digest. Adding to the Park Hyatt cachet, Sofia Coppola’s 2003 Academy Award-nominated film “Lost in Translation” was set in a Park Hyatt in Tokyo, in part because Coppola liked the hotel’s interior design.

The Park Hyatt Washington’s public spaces are flooded with natural light and feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Notably, the public areas and guests rooms are filled with charming artworks. Although not boundary-breaking, they’re worth a long look and make waiting in a lobby more than a boring interlude. There’s a strong Asian theme in the art that is interestingly combined with bits of Americana: the U.S. flag, Colonial-era historical references, and American folk and contemporary pieces.

East and West meet at the entrance, where New York photographer Amanda Weil’s cherry blossom installation rises toward the ceiling in two six-sided glass boxes that flank and define the space. Weil, who studied at Harvard and the Whitney Museum of American Art, photographed Washington’s cherry trees and laminated her explosive collage images onto glass panels that are 10 feet tall. The interplay among the multiple-mirrored, translucent and solid images creates what she calls a kaleidoscope effect. On the entrance flooring, wide white oak planks introduce the warm woods used throughout the hotel’s flooring, furniture and sculpture. There are antique and contemporary woodcrafts, some Shaker-inspired, as well as wood Windsor chairs and wooden blinds. Painted duck decoys and traditional American woodcrafts are also part of the ambiance.

The Park Hyatt Washington art collection includes pieces from Korea by Lee Jae-Hyo, who creates sculptures from natural materials such as wood and stone, as well as Kuzaya Morimota, a young painter of contemporary abstracts who’s had solo exhibits in New York and Japan. Traditional American quilts adorn the walls along with floor-to-ceiling contemporary swathes of hand-applied and colorfully stained strips of burlap—persimmon in the entrance and blue in the Blue Duck Tavern restaurant.

Between the entrance area and the Blue Duck Tavern lies a sculptural bar and café area that includes a stellar tearoom called the Tea Cellar. This area is anchored by four private glass-enclosed dining booths that echo Weil’s entrance installation. Booth patrons sitting inside can be seen but not heard, and the area is home to the “power breakfast,” according to Avishag Kichel of Park Hyatt Washington’s Marketing Communications Department.

The Tea Cellar’s offerings are spectacular. They include rare teas from remote regions, some available from only a single estate. There are “performance teas” that open up in water, priced from to , including one named “Extreme Display Tea.” White teas include the “Royal Himalayan Snowflake” (). There’s also a collection of Chinese and Japanese green teas, along with oolongs and herbals, and among the black tea list is the favorite of the queen of England.

Then there are the Pu-erh teas, described as dark and earthy, that originally came from China, age like fine wines, and are given vintage dates. For example, one 1978 vintage Pu-erh is described as “cave-aged for 25 years” and is priced at . Another, from a rare ancient stock, is priced at 0, while the “extraordinary” 1985 Royal Reserve Pu-erh costs a whopping 0. In addition, the Tea Cellar offers tasting samplers for several people to share. They’re to each and offer a choice of three to five teas.

Similarly original and based on Tony Chi’s creative flair, the hotel’s restaurant, the Blue Duck Tavern, provides an unusual dining space with down-home flair (also see Dining review in January 2007 issue of The Washington Diplomat). The Tavern includes an open kitchen as part of the dining room so that guests can watch the chefs at work. There’s a wood-burning oven for slow-roasted meats, and a separate, cozy room features a semi-private chef’s table that seats 12.

Arrayed along a wall of simple and solid walnut tables is a handcrafted 29-foot-long wooden Windsor bench backed in spindles that evokes Colonial America. Handcrafted in Vermont, it’s the original work of custom chair-smith Timothy Clark.

In addition to roasted meats, the Tavern specializes in the fresh, the local and the organic. The Blue Duck kitchen staff establishes relationships with area farmers, and the menu is market-based, featuring simple, seasonal and wholesome foods. This means that the butter is farm fresh, and the ice cream is churned by hand.

Located in the West End, the Park Hyatt Washington has 215 guest rooms, including 19 suites and 12 rooms designed for physically challenged guests. Amenities include broadband and wireless Internet, flat-screen televisions, spa-inspired bathrooms, a heated sky-lit indoor pool, 24-hour fitness center, multilingual hotel staff and currency exchange. Room rates average more than 0. Suites start at nearly class="import-text">2007July.Renewed Hospitality.txt,000 and go up to ,000-plus per night. There are five private boardrooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

Park Hyatt (202) 789-1234 http://parkwashington.hyatt.com

Marriott Makeover All seven Washington-area Marriott hotels are being renovated as part of a nationwide Marriott renovation project, according to the hotel group’s D.C. Market Director Mark Indre.

Although they offer their own décor and distinctive approach, these Marriott renovations resemble the Park Hyatt changes in two respects: All are designed to appeal, in part, to a new generation, and all emphasize architecturally smaller and more intimate public spaces that invite face-to-face contacts.

Guests can already get a sampling of this renovation concept at the Washington Marriott, whose million update is now nearly complete and has produced a brand new entrance lobby and a large public lounge area that flows into various niches, public nooks and convivial meeting spaces. There’s also an updated Atrium restaurant and bar, as well as new guest room décor.

The Washington Marriott’s “great room” lobby was created by local design team Cauhaus. “The lobby is not just for checking in and out,” Indre observed. “It offers meeting areas for guests.”

Thus this great room is divided into smaller and distinctive areas resembling, variously, a coffee lounge, living room and high-tech Internet-connected meeting space. Bright corporate art in happy colors hangs on the walls. The furnishings are simple, uncluttered and contemporary.

“What’s happening is that hotel lobby areas are coming to resemble town centers and places where people want to do business and set up impromptu meetings,” said Maryland architect Robert Laschever, half of the Cauhaus team, along with his interior designer-architect spouse Tobin Schernerhorn. Laschever explained that J. Willard “Bill” Marriott Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Marriott International, likes things very bright, fresh and comfortable, and he personally approved their plans.

The Cauhaus-designed lobby is full of soft sofas and includes a strikingly high-tech meeting space with a small, partially enclosed round table for quick discussions. It’s a “floating drum” that features celadon greens, bright metals and free-form acrylics. “We’re part sociologists. People do like to have a little bit of privacy, but also see what’s going on around them,” Laschever noted. Cauhaus also designed the customized artwork on the walls. Laschever characterized the Washington

Marriott’s style as “transitional” and “contemporary” interspersed with organic and nature-inspired design elements.

Furnishings in the guest rooms, meanwhile, feature homey comforts, including cotton-rich sheets, immense piles of pillows on the beds, and fluffy down comforters—their crisp covers bright white and freshly laundered for each guest. Visitors sometimes buy their own versions of the signature bedding to take home, noted Erica Gonzalez, the hotel’s marketing director.

And the Washington Marriott has certainly gone high-end on its high-tech accessories. Embedded in the wall of each room is a sleek black plug-in panel for your iPod, video, digital camera, DVD, games and of course your Internet connection.

There’s also a 32-inch plasma television that doubles as a multimedia screen in each room, with a split screen so that you can download and edit the digital pictures you just took while someone beside you is Web browsing on a computer.

Another Marriott renovation is the recently redesigned Renaissance M Street Hotel, which has been given a boutique look. The hotel’s lobby-lounge area is even more intimate than the Washington Marriott’s, with small pieces of art evoking natural themes. There’s a gathering of polished gray stones and tabletop sculptures that resemble spiky and translucent “flower” arrangements, as well as low ceilings, a variety of soft sofas and tables of different heights.

In the guest rooms, the Renaissance M Street Hotel offers the new Marriott down comforters and posh pillow packages described above, as well as the new high-tech panels, called “Jet Packs.”

Marriott International has 2,900 hospitality properties in 68 countries and is known globally for its consistency and high levels of guest service, explained Indre, who noted that the renovations are designed to update the Marriott style and appeal to younger guests as well as older ones—and everyone in between.

Marriott www.marriott.com

Good Hotels, Good Neighbors On May 24, Marriott International was named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by Ethisphere Magazine, which is published by the Ethisphere Council, a group of nonprofit organizations and corporations that promote ethical “best practices” in the business world. The awards are given to companies that demonstrate leadership in ethics and legal compliance and “positively engage” with the communities in which they operate.

Park Hyatt also works to be a good corporate neighbor, said Avishag Kichel of Park Hyatt Washington’s Marketing Communications Department. “Park Hyatt Washington has been involved since its reopening in several projects with local, national and international not-for-profit organizations such as Knock Out Abuse Against Women, the Creative Coalition and YouthAIDS,” Kichel explained. “As part of our efforts to help these organizations to pursue their advocacy work, we have been a host and sponsor of fundraising events that have taken place in the redesigned hotel.”

Additionally, the chefs who work at the hotel, including those with the Blue Duck Tavern, regularly donate their time for different causes, such as St. Jude’s Gourmet Gala, Best Buddies, Share Our Strength, Sweet Charity and many others. Other staff members volunteer at St. Francis Middle School by donating their time to proctor exams. The hotel also helps the middle school teachers by providing meeting space and school supplies.

In the same vein, the purchase and renovation of the Hilton Washington is viewed as both an urban boon and a business deal by the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, according to Managing Partner Bobby Turner. “It’s an economic engine,” Turner said of the hotel deal. Turner and his partner, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, have met with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty on both business and social-investment matters a number of times and will continue to do so as the renovation progresses.

“Magic Johnson and I are committed to community involvement and we’re sitting down with the mayor and community leaders for a breakfast to discuss that,” Turner said, noting that the investment and development team have high regards for Fenty. “He’s why we’re here.”

About the Author

Carolyn Cosmos is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999