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Surge in Hotel Renovations Hits Meetings, Events

Renovation has come to the fore among local hotels as construction slowed last year and several prominent redo projects concluded or are scheduled to debut.

Atlas Hospitality Group in Irvine said new projects added 960 rooms at six hotels in 2017 but that renovations finished at 13 hotels with about 3,600 rooms.

Renovation work spans the county, from Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa in Anaheim—which at more than 1,000 rooms beats new-builds by itself—to DoubleTree by Hilton Doheny Beach Hotel in Dana Point (see graphic, page 18.)

The new room count was down 47% from 2016, though the market is poised to regain part of the equivalent of last year’s loss this year—the Lido House by Bob Olson’s development and construction companies will open in Newport Beach in March, for instance—but renovations still dwarf new construction.

If all eight hotels under construction opened this year, they would bring 1,657 rooms to the market. Of course, that’s not happening—the 600-plus-room Westin Anaheim Resort, for one, only broke ground in September. Meanwhile, Atlas data show 10 hotels under renovation with about 3,000 rooms.

Properties with fresh looks include prominent hotel names and areas across the county, including Hilton’s Waterfront Beach Resort in Huntington Beach and the former Fairmont—temporarily named The Duke—near John Wayne Airport—both of which are scheduled to debut within weeks.

Tipping Points

A clear win for renovation numbers isn’t a surprise; developed markets like Orange County are going to have more hotels that at any time could update their looks than they will have ground-up construction. But when renovations surge is important.

Industry experts say bursts of new product can outstrip renovations when markets are in growth mode. But when owners of older inventory feel the heat from fresh competition; go for a reflag; or property improvement plans for brand quality come due—they spruce up rooms, swap in hip restaurants, and tap meetings and events trends.

A room ratio of 2.4 to 1 of renovated hotels versus newly built suggests OC’s in the middle of that now.

“We’re seeing a tremendous amount of hotel renovation” in OC, said Atlas President Alan Reay. Property owners “want to remain competitive [and are] seeing record revenue … to invest back into their hotels.”

Meeting space is getting much of the attention, whether a hotel gets corporate or tourism business—or both.

Individually, “a resort might do weddings, dinner parties, charity galas,” while business hotels “need boardrooms and presentation space,” said Craig Sullivan, senior vice president of business development at hotel renovator Parkwest General Contractors in Anaheim. And sometimes it’s all of the above.

“Early, it could be overflow for breakfast, then a workspace during the day, then something social at night,” he said.

A room is a room, a restaurant a restaurant, but meeting space can be a tableau, with technology the palette to present a hotel’s possibilities beyond a 55-inch room HDTV.

Work gets down-and-determined in “use of space, soundproofing, complex presentations [and] lighting” with LED or colors or both.


The Duke hotel will become Renaissance Newport Beach next month following a $30 million renovation.

Meeting space will increase from 22,000 square feet to 27,500, said Sales and Marketing Director Lynne Difrancesco, courtesy of converting the old Avo restaurant into a ballroom. The new Current restaurant literally moves to the fore with a front-of-property location.

“We want a more interactive lobby experience,” Difrancesco said. In the morning, for instance, the hotel bar will be “home to coffee, fresh juices, croissants,” and at night revert to form.

“Food and beverage is by time of day … like the changing tides,” she said, while the new ballroom targets big meetings and weddings.

More outdoor meeting—including the option for private space—comes from a rooftop pool deck on the hotel’s third floor with a view of John Wayne Airport and the Irvine hills, an area that was previously unused.

The aim is to be a business-class hotel that also goes “lifestyle” and attracts locals, Difrancesco said.

“We want the city of Newport Beach to come alive in the hotel.”

If it sounds familiar, it is.

Hotel Irvine reopened a few years ago after an estimated $20 million-plus renovation with similar approaches for Irvine that Renaissance has for Newport Beach: turning a staid business option into one that could attract the new breed of business traveler—including for meetings—and hip locals.

It opened up its lobby and shows movies on the lawn, with the idea of making the property business and lifestyle friendly.

Renaissance Newport Beach turned a tennis court to a sand volleyball court, added bocce and basketball, plans weekly live music, and talks up “business unusual” as part of an approach it calls REN, or Real life, Experiential activity, Neighborhood feel.

The effort includes doodle pads and Slinkys to “peel away layers” that build up between meetings and the work at hand; sensory music and lighting; and local food options during breaks.

“Guests know they’ll have an experience designed around the community, infused with local flavors,” Difrancesco said.

Water Feature

Waterfront Beach Resort’s Scott O’Hanlon, who directs marketing and advertising, said the hotel’s long-awaited second tower is ready for its close-up. It opens Friday.

Call it a dolphin sighting—it’s named Twin Dolphin.

The opening was scheduled for Jan. 23, when the resort was to reveal its more than 50% larger indoor and outdoor space.

Waterfront will debut a twin-level outdoor function area with “a water wall separator adjustable for color and height” that cuts the noise and can be lowered to double as an aesthetic feature if one group has both areas.

There’s also the new Breakwater grand ballroom—Waterfront’s second such space, this one with its own valet area. And you’ll find The Office transition area between the towers, aimed at small groups, individual workers, and private meetings.

The new freight elevator is big enough to bring cars into the meeting space for product launches or to “move tons of equipment from the lower garage, fast,” O’Hanlon said.

Mr. Majestic

Across the county in the Anaheim resort area, Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel has been thinking about what’s missing in the area—for instance, the lack of what its executives consider authentic Japanese cuisine. Disney’s Yamabuki closed at Paradise Pier almost a decade ago.

So Majestic Garden took 2,400 square feet of its roughly 26,000 square feet of meeting space for Hanagi restaurant, which opens in March under Executive Chef Hiroyuki Ikeda.

Hanagi locations are at hotels of Majestic owner-operator Ken Corp Ltd. in Japan, which bought the Anaheim property in 2005 for $24 million, switched from a Sheraton to indie status in 2015, and will finish a $2.6 million renovation upon the restaurant’s opening.

Director of Sales and Marketing Cindy Smith said the restaurant was crafted from meeting space that was fine-dining restaurant Adrian’s before becoming a junior ballroom in the 1990s.

She said the aim is the traveler from Asia—already a hotel mainstay—and local companies staffed, no doubt, by foodies and millennials seeking new tastes.

Richard Aragon, executive chef at the hotel’s Garden Court Bistro, will incorporate Ikeda’s menu into food and beverage offerings for meetings and events, and in grab-and-go store California Deli.

Nice Touches

The Grand Californian did formal meeting space work on its 12,000 square feet about two years ago, General Manager Dan Coleman said, then included “convenience for the business traveler” touches in last year’s work on the 1,000-plus rooms that industry estimates show cost more than $40 million.

Rooms got wood veneer with images of orange groves, and the lobby was “made more conducive to small meetings” with redesigned seating, ottomans under the table to expand groups, and food service from Hearthstone Lounge, “like a small living room setup,” Coleman said.

Down county at Doheny Beach, Doubletree’s director of sales and marketing, Yolanda Bender, said the property updated about 7,100 square feet of meeting space in a recent remodel.

“It was mostly cosmetic, to incorporate more of the vintage surf look.”

The hotel gets a lot of business from area music festivals—Sabroso, Ohana and granddaddy Doheny Blues.

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