Keeping the doors open: exterior refresh

The Hyatt Regency
The Hyatt Regency in Jersey City, N.J., completed a renovation to its façade and ground floor to repair damage it suffered from Hurricane Sandy.

The Hyatt Regency in Jersey City, N.J., completed a renovation to its façade and ground floor to repair damage it suffered from Hurricane Sandy. 

During most interior renovations, hotels are able to hide rough patches inside and keep guests away from areas under construction. This is not true of work that must be done on the exterior of the hotel, where improvements can help in the long run, but can be disruptive to business during the process.

The Hyatt Regency in Jersey City, N.J., recently completed major renovations that included repairs to its façade and entranceway from damage caused by last year’s Hurricane Sandy. Updates were planned to replace marble flooring and doors that suffered water damage, while improvements were made to the hotel, such as a larger revolving door at the entrance and a repositioning of the hotel’s escalators in the lobby. Terry Dunbar, GM of the property, said the update was planned for six months ago but was held for a period of lower occupancy.

“Timing is everything,” Dunbar said. “Visually, construction on the front of your hotel is disruptive, but there was also a week of continuous jackhammering. There is never a good time for that, but you have to pick a moment with the least impact.”

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Sam J. Cicero, founder of general contractor Cicero’s Development Corp., said the biggest challenge for hotel façade construction takes place when a hotel has only one main entrance. Often a hotel will have a ballroom or side entrance for meeting facilities, but a property that Cicero’s company recently began work on, the Wyndham Houston Medical Center, has but one.

“In situations like that, you have to get creative with drapes and cordoning off areas at the right time,” Cicero said. “You take on half of the entrance at a time and work on as much of the façade as possible.”

Cicero also said the most successful renovations take place when the hotel and construction company work together to understand each other’s needs. “We need to know what the occupancy is for different days and times of day,” Cicero said. “Talk to the hotel staff, because they know the dynamics of a property. If there is a renovation, sometimes people won’t book, so you need to know the details of a hotel’s business and how to make the experience as pleasant as possible.” 

Safety, awareness during renovations

Doing construction work on a busy hotel entrance is a complicated affair. Guests will often be walking within a few feet of heavy equipment and workers transporting building material, meaning safety is of the highest priority.

The Hyatt Regency Jersey City was forced into one such situation with its exterior update, as the hotel is situated on a pier with no other entrances or exits aside from emergency exits.

“Logistically, everything changes,” said Terry Dunbar, GM of the property. “Our front desk is on the third floor, so we had to create a new hallway and entrance area guiding guests to the elevators, and we had to make it look seamless.”

The greatest necessity in the Jersey City Hyatt’s case was a requirement for fore-staff on-hand to help direct guests. “Steering guests along a makeshift corridor is challenging, but [operators] really just need more staff and resources available during that period,” Dunbar said.

In the case of Cicero’s Development Corp.’s renovation of the Wyndham Houston Medical Center, the update is taking place just as the city’s hurricane season begins. This means a higher degree of due diligence at the end of the day, ensuring equipment is tied down and scaffolding is lowered.

“It results in much more additional work and planning,” said Sam J. Cicero, founder of the company. “You have to draw clear lines of where equipment and machinery are operating so that no one crosses ways with guests, especially at this property. People [at the Wyndham Houston Medical Center] are often going to hospital areas, and they have enough stress in their lives without us ruining their stay.”

Exterior renovation tips for safety and planning

Tips for safety and planning during exterior hotel renovations:

1 Keep clear communication between the construction company and the hotel’s management to coordinate guest movement through lobby areas. Having people inside the property to communicate when work is done above the entranceway is critical for guest and employee safety.

2 Don’t overestimate the usefulness of signs. Signs are commonly ignored by guests, who will look at them and walk through an area if they don’t see movement, putting them in danger if workers come through with heavy equipment. Discussing with the hotel to decide the best times to do construction can help cut down on situations such as these.

The Wyndham Houston Medical Center Hotel & Suites’ current exterior renovation is creating an area for smokers with some distance from the front entrance, adding canopies to the area as well.

The Wyndham Houston Medical Center Hotel & Suites’ current exterior renovation is creating an area for smokers with some distance from the front entrance, adding canopies to the area as well.

3 GMs should meet with staff prior to the renovation and tell them the plan for the property. This includes what was wrong, what will be changing and what will take place for this to happen. If the renovation is a team effort, there will be fewer roadblocks and more accountability for safety throughout the process.

4 There is no such thing as over-communication. Interactions between hotel and construction management could take place as many as three times per day if a renovation is happening in a high-traffic area. Plans change by the minute and decisions will be easier to make if both parties make themselves available and willing to meet.

5 Understand that the construction company does not want to be in the way. “The more business the hotel has, the better,” said Sam J. Cicero, founder of Cicero’s Development Corp. “We tell every property not to turn anything down during the process; it’s our job to work together and figure out how to manage the situation. The only way a renovation works is for things to go well for the hotel and respond to guest feedback so we know what to do in turn.”