Rebuilding after Hurricane Maria, El San Juan Hotel prepares for future storms

ALHI increases its Caribbean membership with the addition of two historic hotels in Puerto Rico and Cuba.
El San Juan Hotel. Photo credit: Two Roads Hospitality

Just months after the El San Juan Hotel in Puerto Rico completed a $65-million renovation (courtesy of Jeffery Beers International) and joined Hilton’s Curio Collection, Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017 and forced the property, along with many others, to close its doors.

As Puerto Rico recovers from the hurricane, the hotel launched a second renovation to bring the property back to its former standards. This time, the team was not only looking to restore a historic property, but is focused on finding ways to prevent damage from future storms.

Riding Out the Storm

During the storm, the 388-room hotel’s exterior took the brunt of the damage, and the lobby and ballroom were flooded. 

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"The hotel didn't sustain the same damage as others in Puerto Rico,” said Craig Waterman, regional director of operations for Two Roads Hospitality, which operates the property for co-owners León, Mayer & Company and Aimbridge Hospitality. “It was not as bad as it could have been."

Most importantly, the Two Roads team had a plan in place, and several people stayed on-property during the storm to start the clean-up as soon as the storm passed. “We went into it prepared, and we had a critical emergency team ready to manage everything," Waterman said. "It was very organized.”

As soon as the storm ended, the team began cleaning the exterior, removing debris and taking stock of the damage. “That was a big deal, to start the process,” Waterman said. “We focused on the exterior, then into the lobby. Even though we had damage inside, we were able to clean it up and secure it and work on everything section by section.” 

Once the damage had been assessed, Two Roads brought in a recovery and restoration team to begin the dry-out process and deal with any areas that had water or humidity damage. “We tackled that in many ways,” Waterman said. “The initial hotel team jumped in to clean up as much water as they could, primarily in the public areas to get those secured. Then we brought in an expert team to handle anything that needs more work.” 

Fixing and Mending

Renovating a hotel in optimal conditions is always a challenge, but renovating a hotel that is a) on an island, b) recovering from a hurricane and c) without electricity is a whole new level of difficult. “You have to manage your way through,” Waterman said. “Any product we need to bring in takes time to get here. That was part of the project. We’ve also upgraded the generator to help us in future storms.”   

The second renovation in two years will not only restore the hotel to its prestorm condition, Waterman said, but will add some improvements. Beyond the upgrades to the generator, the hotel's roofing will be restored and improved. “Also, you have drainage issues that come up during a storm,” he said. “Under normal circumstances, the drains work fine. In a storm, water and debris can cause problems.” The 60-year-old hotel’s drainage system was cleaned out and completely reworked to better accommodate water surges in the future. “With debris, it’s always a battle,” he said. “You try to make sure things are ready, and then in one spot, you have leaves clogging things up and you have to manage those.” 

The hotel is scheduled to reopen in October, slightly more than a year after the storm. And in spite of the lengthy closure, Waterman is enthusiastic about what the renovation means for both the hotel and for Puerto Rico as a destination. “It’s amazing how quickly the pool area was cleaned up,” he said. “What’s really amazing is to see the foliage on trees come back. Winds rip off the leaves. But nature recovers. Everything is green and lush. You wouldn’t know there had been a storm. It’s well on its way to getting back up and running.”