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Renovators’ Puzzle: So Much Money, So Little Time

This is a rendering of the Embassy Suites' new Willie's Bar, named for the hotel's former sous-chef, Wilfredo Benavides, who died last year after a struggle with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. / Rendering courtesy Destination Hotels.

This is a rendering of the Embassy Suites’ new Willie’s Bar, named for the hotel’s former sous-chef, Wilfredo Benavides, who died last year after a struggle with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. / Rendering courtesy Destination Hotels.

UPDATE: Embassy Suites announced its first 32 suites were available for guests as of August 25. Wow.

THE PRESS RELEASE arrived a little over a week ago. It announced that the Embassy Suites hotel at Chevy Chase Pavilion in Northwest Washington was about to undergo a renovation that would cost $10.5 million. And would be finished by October 20.

Now, no matter how much your last home renovation cost, it’s doubtful it cost that much. And the work was certainly not finished in three months. Not even close, right? (As far as I know, the closest we mere homeowners can come may be the “pull and replace” bathroom re-do program offered by Case Design/Build.)

How, I asked area general manager Jeff Brainard, could the hotel spend that much money in that short a time span? Turns out, the redecoration–the hotel’s three lobbies, the fitness area, the guest rooms and a new bar–did in fact start just last week, but the buying has been going on for the past 12 months. And all the materials–new hardwood flooring, bathroom tile, granite vanity tops, vinyl wall covering, bedding, curtains–have been stored in a warehouse, poised for just this moment.

For 198 guest rooms, that’s 198 electric mirrors (replacing the more-traditional mirror-and-two-sconces bathroom setups) and 408 flat-panel TVs. (Brainard said TVs are not wall-mounted to avoid sound transmission to adjacent rooms.) Those who’ve stayed in a hotel in the past few years will not be surprised to learn that the rooms’ new bronze desk lamps will have four electrical outlets, plus a USB port and an HDMI connection for those who want to stream from their computer to the TV.

“We plan a year and a half out,” Brainard explained. “Then, 10 months out, we start weekly meetings. Most furnishings and carpeting are ordered six months in advance.” Planning, Brainard estimates, saves 50 percent of the time on the project.

The numbers are impressive: In the 105-day run-up to October 20, the hotel will spend half a million dollars to refurbish, spending $28,000 per suite. (My en-suite bath alone cost more 10 years ago. But, then, I didn’t get a volume discount.)

“Last night,” Brainard explained on Thursday, July 17, “all the rooms on the seventh floor were sold. And today after the guests checked out, at noon, the staff started stripping the rooms of furniture, of pictures on the walls.” The next day, Friday, the demo team would show up and rip the tile from bathroom walls, he said, manhandle the bathtubs out of there, remove the living room and bedroom carpeting for new hardwood floors. By Saturday, the plumbers would be poised to rough in the plumbing. By Monday, 33 rooms would have new plumbing and new electrical (switches, underpinnings for new electronics). Within 14 days the rooms would be ready for new guests.

Rooms will have two-panel doors, like those in a lot of traditional homes, with a walnut finish. But the door lock will be anything but traditional–new RMDI locks will replace those bulky key-card readers.

And since hotels are generally on a five-year cycle for refreshing, it makes sense they’re good at this. I guess it becomes second nature to roll out the drop cloths.

Flatbread pizzas that will be served at the Embassy Suites' new Willie's Bar and restaurant space. / Photo courtesy Destination Hotels.

Flatbread pizzas that will be served at the Embassy Suites’ new Willie’s Bar and restaurant space. / Photo courtesy Destination Hotels.

The top two floors of the hotel are going to be premium levels, Brainard said. Large showers will replace bathtubs. Similar to “club” floors at some other hotels, these floors will have a central refreshment center with a constant supply of snacks. (But even regular guests can grab a free drink and snacks at the hotel’s evening guest reception downstairs.)

There will also be three fitness suites. Guests will pay a $30-a-day premium for an extra-large suite complete with yoga mats and something called a cardio adaptive motion trainer, “kind of a NordicTrack on steroids,” according to Brainard. Typical suites are about 600 square feet; the fitness suites will be a little under 800 square feet.

The redecoration of the hotel is part of the upgrading of Chevy Chase Pavilion. Range, Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant, has upped the dining ante, and the central atrium area has also pulled up its socks. The property is one-third retail, one-third office and one-third hotel, the last bit operated by Destination Hotels.

The hotel season in Washington is governed by Congress’s schedule and by the weather. The Chevy Chase Embassy Suites claims a distinction among its opposite numbers. Once hotel occupancy crosses the 80 percent mark, Brainard says, things are looking really good. The Chevy Chase property, he says, crosses into 85-percent-plus territory, averaging 500 guests per night.

Also, “at Christmas, when other hotels are quiet,” Brainard says, his hotel is packed with relatives visiting in the affluent Chevy Chase area, presumably relatives who prefer their own space during holiday down time.

And because Brainard travels a lot for his job and likes to know which city he’s in when he wakes up in the morning, there will be unique Washington touches in each room’s choice of art and even throw pillows (a map of D.C., the D.C. flag, that sort of thing).

And where was Brainard planning to be as this countdown was launching? The day after I spoke with him he was scheduled to head for a long-awaited stay in Hawaii . . . in a hotel, of course.

–Nancy McKeon

Embassy Suites Chevy Chase Pavilion , 4300 Military Road NW, Washington, D.C.;  800-916-4339.

One thought on “Renovators’ Puzzle: So Much Money, So Little Time

  1. Bonnie says:

    This is good news! It certainly can use an upgrade. We’ll have to wait and see if really can finish on schedule.

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