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Downtown Raleigh Hotel renovations


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There was an article in yesterdays News & Observer detailing the renovations going on at Downtown Raleigh's 3 hotels:

-Days Inn

-Clarion Inn

-Sheraton Capitol Center

It talked about how all the hotels are spiffing up in anticipation of the future downtown convention center hotel. The article was rather critical of the hotels, detailing their faults, and how its rather embarrasing that as the capitol city the downtown hotels are rather lacking...

Here is the full article:

Hotels dress up to prepare for busy downtown

New center to draw business

By J. ANDREW CURLISS, Staff Writer

RALEIGH -- Oprah Winfrey came to Raleigh a couple of years ago, said good morning to a packed house at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts and then, as an often-told story goes, complained about her night at the downtown Sheraton. Depending on the version, either her shower was cold, or the eggs were.

Over at the Clarion Hotel on Hillsborough Street, which is under renovation, General Manager Ron Leedy cringes when reporters call. "It's always about going in and out of bankruptcy," he said.

Not now. Downtown's hotels are dressing up as never before, trying to change their image of punching bags for critics who wonder why downtown isn't better off.

Hotel investors and developers are back, too, after checking out of the downtown hotel scene for years.

The main reason: The city and county are dangling up to $20 million in public incentives in an effort to lure a new 450-room, $80 million hotel to the south end of Fayetteville Street Mall.

Three groups are bidding for the job to build what would be the largest hotel in the city. Final decisions are expected in early 2004.

Already, though, the Clarion, Days Inn and Sheraton, the only three downtown hotels, are eyeing the convention center plans and getting ready for more competition and business.

Signs of progress -- and of how far the downtown hotels still have to go -- were evident in visits to all three in the past two weeks.

Oct. 23, Room 215, Days Inn

At the low-slung Days Inn on the northern edge of downtown, there are fresh zinnias at the front desk and new tan marble floors.

The carpet is new. The bedspreads are new. New drapes are up.

And the rates are up, too, from $30 a night to more than $60 now, a sign of respectability.

It is the closest hotel to the burgeoning Glenwood South district, which hops with night life, though the walk to Glenwood is difficult when sidewalks run out and streets are dark.

Back at the hotel, it's clear that owner Arvind Shah is trying, though not always delivering, on the details.

He spent $700,000 on a major renovation, which included knocking out a manager's apartment to create a breakfast area and a small business center. He also built a small fitness center out of a former guest room.

The exterior was rehabbed with stucco, and a swimming pool was filled in as a patio with an ornate fountain.

"This is because the whole downtown is coming up," he said. "There are so many things coming on downtown, and you have to think it's going to rejuvenate. I want to take part in it."

He offers coffee, but it's in the lobby instead of in the rooms, requiring a walk through narrow hallways and then outside to get to it. There was a TV Guide in the room, but it covered the wrong week. A vending machine offered a bargain: 65-cent sodas. But six out of seven offerings were sold out.

A desk clerk phoned the room moments after arrival to make sure all was OK. But the man next door didn't respond when she asked him to turn the TV down, and it murmured through the walls all night.

Debby Herrin, a silver vendor from Virginia in town for the Junior League of Raleigh's holiday shopping event at the civic center, said she chose the Days Inn because it was near the event, and relatively cheap.

She smiled about her stay, and said she'd return.

"It was clean, though the room was cramped," she said. "The breakfast could have been more. Our toilet was broken -- but they came and fixed it right away. You know, I'd come again."

Oct. 27, Room 1206, Clarion Hotel

A few blocks away, the round, 20-story Clarion rises like a giant paper towel roll on Raleigh's skyline.

Inside, crews are gutting the entire place floor by floor, right down to the concrete walls. At $8 million, it's the first full-scale renovation since the hotel was built in the late 1960s as a Holiday Inn. Similar cylindrical hotels are in two dozen U.S. cities.

Leedy, the general manager since January, says new local ownership is hoping for a 10 percent to 15 percent jump in business. About half the rooms are full these days.

For now, even he acknowledges some of them can be "nasty."

"The prior ownership neglected it," he said.

Now the lobby is all new. Meeting rooms have been redone top to bottom. Sprinklers are being installed for the first time.

Also on the way: Crews are enclosing the balconies in glass and making them part of the rooms, giving guests more space and a better view.

"We're going for the view," Leedy said. "That skyline, that panorama. ... We're going to gain views of Raleigh."

Room 1206 wasn't clean. Dust had built up on the lights and a rusting coat rack. There were hairs in the tub and sink. And the lamp shades were askew -- all signs of inattention.

The TV reception was ghostly, the result of an aging satellite system that is slated for replacement.

Leedy agreed the rooms need updating badly, which is what's happening. The first floor of new rooms should open by December, he said.

Willie Cromer was checking out after a restless night when he looked at a handout showing a glittering, almost new hotel -- the planned result of the renovation. He had been in town to visit the Veterinary School at N.C. State University.

"Boy, it needs it," said the 60-year-old cab driver from Newberry, S.C. "Am I in the capital of North Carolina? This is the capital? Shabby now. But with a change like this, it could be good."

From the top of the Clarion, where guests eat a continental breakfast in a dated restaurant, there is an unobstructed view over City Hall and Nash Square to the Fayetteville Street Mall, where the red-brick Sheraton, the only full-service hotel downtown, rises.

Oct. 28, Room 1223, Sheraton Hotel

The Sheraton is clearly in a different league. In the lobby, Southwest Airlines pilots and flight attendants whisk around, towing bulky suitcases on wheels. Businessmen fill up a bar. Tourists gaze at a soaring, three-story atrium above the restaurant.

But again, attention to detail disappointed some travelers. A man from Flint, Mich., who would only give his name as Doug, said his room key stopped working in the middle of his stay. A flight attendant named Stephanie said she received an unsolicited wake-up call at 4:30 a.m.

In Room 1223, a window was off its track, letting train whistles and ambulance sirens float through early in the morning. A light bulb was burned out when I arrived.

Rosemary and Victor Darin, a retired couple from Connecticut, said they had to wait 45 minutes to get a room, even though they had a reservation as part of a wedding group.

"For a Sheraton, you expect more," Mrs. Darin said. "It just seems disorganized here."

The Sheraton's general manager, Suzanne Hinde, said such lapses are not acceptable, or usual.

"It's not honestly the norm," she said. "The majority are very happy. This is absolutely not typical."

The Sheraton is getting its first face-lift in five years: New carpet and furnishings in the meeting rooms, and new, more plush beds in every room. The beds alone are a $400,000 upgrade.

Hinde has closely watched the convention center plans in recent months and thinks a new hotel next door will at first hurt the Sheraton's business.

"But in the long run, it will be good," she said. "If you believe that a convention center will go off as the community wants, then it has to have a positive impact on us. And we're going to be ready, like the rest."

At checkout, the desk clerk asked if everything went all right. At a mention of the off-track window, she knocked $25 off the bill. And when the tab didn't show an $11 breakfast, she tried to add it in but couldn't.

Finally, she said not to worry. The breakfast -- a piping hot ham-and-cheese omelet -- was on the house.

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Yes, I've read it... Now that some serious competition is on the way, the 3 hotels decided to get their acts together. Oh, well!!! The new hotel should become a truly nice addition to DT Raleigh, if we want it to survive, otherwise another competitor will show up and [hopefully] build another hotel, nearby... All that, assuming the new convention center becomes success.

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