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Hilton Minneapolis goes high-end residential with renovation

CONCEPT: To give weight to the Hilton Minneapolis’ stature as the largest hotel in Minnesota, its owner, Connecticut-based 1001 Marquette LLC, completed a $22.8 million, multi-year renovation of the 25-story property, which opened in 1992.
“The goal was to provide an high-end, residential style using a contemporary design,” said general manager John E. Luke, who noted much of the change was sparked by guests, particularly meeting planners, who were calling for a fresher, higher-end design feel but still wanted comfort. The property connects to the Minneapolis Convention Center via the city’s SkyWay and is a key meetings hotel for the area.
The project also was interesting for interior designer Meri Meis, president of Moorpark, CA-based Meri Meis Associates, Inc. She had worked with the property since 2000 and had done the previous renovation and was now charged with reinterpreting her own design vision. “We needed to bring it more up to the times; more stylized. We wanted just to give it a fresh look,” she said. “When I did the first renovation, they kept the existing case goods; that drove a lot of the things I did with the soft goods package. This time I really had a clean slate where we could go in and give it a whole, new look.”

EXECUTION: According to Luke, Hilton Hotels Corp. initially started the renovation effort then sold the property to the LLC in March 2006. With that came a $15 million PIP, with the LLC finishing the renovation plan.
With its focus on meetings, the Hilton’s 74,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space was upgraded. Major additions were the 7,400-square-foot Symphony Ballroom with 1,600 square feet of pre-function space, plus 21 function rooms.
Also redesigned was the hotel’s restaurant, SkyWater Cuisine and Cocktails, which offers contemporary Midwestern selections. A “grab-and-go” facility, Baron’s Brew, was also added.
All 821 guestrooms were revamped in a six-month period. “We were hustling,” said Luke. “It took six weeks per floor, with about 40 rooms per floor.”
Rooms now feature Hilton’s Serenity bed with 250-thread count linen and allergen-free pillows, oversize desks with Herman Miller ergonomic desk chairs, MP3 stereo clock/radio, dual-line phones, and upgraded high-speed wired and wireless Internet access. TV chests with 27-inch, flat-screen televisions replaced armoires.
“I put in a color-filled palette,” said Meis. “It has a sense of sophistication now.” Utilizing rich colors, textures and dark wood, she also used contemporary fabric patterns juxtaposed with more-traditionally designed case goods capped with granite tops. A different wall covering was used at the headboard. “That way I gave kind of an eclectic, more energetic experience,” she said. “I just wanted to elevate the richness of the rooms.”
Luke noted challenges came from gutting the bathrooms. “We’re in a post-concrete tension building and noise just travels. You could be in the ballroom, and we’d be taking care of bathrooms eight floors up and you could hear that all the way down into the ballroom,” he said. To minimize the noise, such renovations were kept between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. And if there were critical meetings going on, those renovations would be shifted to alternate times. “It’s planning, planning, planning,” said Luke.
Meis helped bridge the traditional look used in the public areas with the transitional look in the guestrooms by designing custom carpeting. “I hand drew it, colored it and sent it to the carpet vendors to interpret my design. I used the traditional elements from the public areas and put them into a graphic layout to give it a transitional feel. I also continued with the same color palette from the public areas and used some of the colors from the guestrooms so we have a cohesive transition between the spaces.”

RESULTS:
“It’s truly been a ‘Wow,’” said Luke, who noted repeat guests have “really” taken to the changes. Toward that, occupancy has increased several points.
“We’re actually running our highest occupancy [low 70s] in the history of the hotel right now,” said the GM, noting he expects to see strong RevPAR growth this year.
“If we didn’t do this [the renovation] we wouldn’t be seeing that,” said Luke, adding: “I’ve been through many of these, and it’s good planning, good communication and timing it right— you’ve really got to work hard at those, months before you even start your project.”