How Destination Hotels turned its Scottsdale property around

(Pool at The Scottsdale Resort)

When Destination Hotels & Resorts, now part of Two Roads Hospitality, took over management of The Scottsdale (Ariz.) Resort at McCormick Ranch in 2014, it was with the intent of immediately renovating the 41-year-old property, formerly the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center. Designed by Arizona architect Bennie Gonzales in hacienda style, the 326-room resort’s leisure facilities had never been modernized. Destination Hotels was charged with transforming the property into an authentic local experience for business and leisure travelers alike—with a budget of just $10 million. Patrick Connors, director of sales and marketing, Connors summarizes how this phoenix was reborn with limited capital-expenditure funding and a three-month window during which time the resort was closed.

Replacing what Connors describes as “a standard in-ground, backyard pool” was a major pain point of the resort’s rehab. Enclosed by four room blocks, a crane was bolted to the ground on one side of a building and lifted materials and equipment—including a backhoe, a dump truck, a Bobcat machine and dumpsters—over the edifice to replace the decades-old, rectangular pool with a freeform, zero-entry pool complete with water features, a bridge, eight cabanas, 16 poolside patio rooms and the addition of a second resort restaurant. Palm trees and bistro lights were also added to pool area, which was previously devoid of landscaping with the exception of eight fruit-bearing olive trees that were donated to a local commercial olive orchard. “Previously, the hotel was entirely focused on meetings and had no leisure business, which is a direction that we are taking property, so we needed to create a pool product that is attractive to the leisure segment,” Connors said. The new pool and its amenities were completed on schedule.

In its former life, The Scottsdale Resort was also hidden from street view, partly surrounded by a 10-foot concrete wall and 60-plus eucalyptus trees that required extensive watering. The property featured a small sign that Connors likened to a tombstone announcing the resort. A guard gate also prescreened arriving visitors. Both the wall and trees were removed and new, native desert landscaping, including 60 palm trees, were planted, as was a cactus garden with a bench dedicated to a Bosnian refugee who worked at the resort for 25 years. A new parking area also was created to serve motorcoaches and valets during private events. Four of the resort’s tennis courts were converted into outdoor meeting space, although Connors noted additional outdoor meeting space is in the works because the resort now has increased demand for social groups. The resort will welcome 50,000 groups annually, up from 34,000.

Unexpected obstacles arose in replacing the resort’s former bar with an open kitchen. After tearing out the bar, construction crews discovered the floor was made of 18 inches of concrete, only to then have to tunnel through three levels of the poured concrete building to lay ductwork. The pillars supporting the bar, as all of the pillars throughout the resort, couldn’t be removed either because they provided structural support. Nonetheless, the resort’s main restaurant, Kitchen Restaurant, now features an open kitchen. “The architects found these issues as they went along,” Connors said. “Creating an authentically local experience was the easy part, but structurally there were challenges.”

Room renovations are a case study in ecofriendly and economically sound upcycle design. Like guestroom corridors, rooms were repainted, recarpeted and decorated with new artwork. But wood furnishings were completely refinished and headboards were reupholstered with velvet for a completely new look. Even the bedside lamps were repainted and capped with new lampshades. The marble surrounds in guest baths were cleaned and regrouted while the rest of the bathroom was rewallpapered to accentuate the marble. Seventy-six double-queen rooms were also converted to king rooms, bringing the total number of king rooms to 130. Similarly, the lobby furnishings were also upcycled with new upholstery, fresh paint, refinished wood tables and the addition of new accent pillows for a completely refreshed Southwestern style. A wall of lobby windows was also replaced with low-e French doors.

But according to Connors, the greatest challenge in taking The Scottsdale Resort forward was not the physical renovation program, but convincing the local community that the resort’s facilities are now available to them. During the three-month renovation period, the resort joined the Scottsdale CVB and local chamber of commerce for the first time in its history, locals were invited for hardhat tours and the Scottsdale mayor was invited to participate in the reopening’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Since the resort reopened, resort executives have approached the four surrounding homeowners associations to offer VIP resort memberships that area residents can use for discounts on dining and spa treatments as well as pool access. Another of the resort’s outdoor spaces has also been turned into a community lawn with its own pedestrian entrance accessible to the four HOA communities so residents can make use of the space as if it were a public park. Wine-tasting and coffee events for locals are also in the works. “Bringing in locals who had never felt welcomed here was our greatest challenge and also our greatest opportunity,” Connors said.

More changes are still to come, including new outdoor furnishing, upgrades to the property’s 50 meeting rooms and 10,000-square-foot ballroom and perhaps what will be its most unique feature: “new” artwork that will come in the form of 30 original signed and numbered paintings by Native American artists that are currently being cataloged after they were found in a storage unit during renovations.