By Sarah Jamieson
The year 2006 is shaping up well for downtown St. Louis as the baseball Cardinals come to roost at their new Busch Stadium, and their closest hotel neighbor gets a major facelift.
Formerly known as the St. Louis Marriott Downtown, and most recently as the Pavilion Hotel St. Louis Downtown, the hotel just north of the stadium site is being reflagged as the Hilton at the Ballpark. St. Louis-based Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) and other private investors bought the property from Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors in September 2005 for $25 million, and it’s receiving a full new lease on life under their care.
LHM is spending another $15 million to renovate and expand the hotel, which was built in 1976. Steve O’Loughlin, director of operations for LHM, said the number of sleeping rooms will stay at 675, but almost everything else about the hotel is growing and developing.
One of the most exciting parts of the plan is the doubling of the hotel’s flexible meeting space, which will jump from 25,000 square feet to 50,000 with the building of a major addition. “That’s still in the planning stages,” O’Loughlin said of the new construction. “For a hotel of this size, that’s actually on the ‘light’ side. We’d like to get even more space added.”
O’Loughlin said LHM is still working out exactly where the addition will go, but it has a couple of possible configurations in mind. At press time, the company was not yet ready to say which side(s) of the building the addition might encompass.
The hotel’s existing ballroom is being renovated to include 14’ coffered ceilings, audio-visual access points, a new sound system and new lighting. Wall panels will echo the look of the renovated lobby, which features earth tones and a massive granite fireplace. In-house audio-visual professionals will be available to help planners use the hotel’s technology, which is all brand new and state-of-the-art, O’Loughlin said.
Downtown in growth mode
“What attracted us to this property was its closeness to Busch Stadium and the upcoming Ballpark Village development,” he said. “Meeting planners are excited about it being ‘the hotel right next to Busch.’” Ballpark Village is a planned mixed-use development just north of the stadium, and next door to the refurbished hotel.
“For the meeting planner, it’s important to have something new to offer to groups,” he added. “They need something to help them build up business. This hotel will have the latest guest rooms in St. Louis. It’ll be the hot new thing.”
Interest already is mounting among meeting planners. O’Loughlin said hotel sales and marketing director Dave Duncan is taking calls from planners who want to book the new space as far out as 2008.
“The fact that LHM is spending so much to upgrade the property will help the entire (St. Louis) hospitality industry compete for more and higher-quality meetings,” said Nancy Milton, vice president of marketing communications for the
St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. “The bar is now set higher than ever before for St. Louis’ lodging.
The new hotel’s location next to Busch Stadium is a plus for many groups already, and once Ballpark Village starts to take shape, it should be a major selling point for them.
“We’re focusing many of our client communications on the amazing developments that are taking place throughout the region and in the downtown hospitality district,” Milton said. “That includes hotel openings and renovations as well as major additions from the $400 million Pinnacle Casino to the new ballpark, dining and lofts on Washington Avenue — and the plans for the Bottle District,” another mixed-use development going in north of the Edward Jones Dome.
Because of all the positive change that’s reinventing downtown, “we’re in a re-introduction phase with our clients, and the renewed Hilton at the Ballpark is a big part of that story,” Milton said.
“This gives our hotel and meeting planners another option when larger groups come to St. Louis,” O’Loughlin added. “Only a few downtown hotels such as the Adam’s Mark and Renaissance Grand have big ballroom spaces. Right now, there are some groups St. Louis can’t bid on because of lack of large spaces. This hotel will open new doors and attract more group business.”
A look inside
O’Loughlin said the hotel’s new identity is taking shape with the help of architect ACI Boland Inc., builder Paric Corp., and interior design firm The Harrick Group out of Chicago. “Harrick does all our design work for renovation projects,” said O’Loughlin, whose company also owns and operates Sheraton, DoubleTree, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn, Best Western and other hospitality properties in St. Louis and Indianapolis.
The Ballpark property is getting an earthy new interior color palette of chocolate browns, rust, taupe, grays and gold accents. Guest rooms will sport vintage photography of the early days of the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals baseball teams. Bathrooms will feature color pictures of the old St. Louis Sportsman’s Park venue in its heyday.
The hotel’s main floor offers a host of time-saving and technology-savvy amenities for leisure travelers and meeting attendees. O’Loughlin, who owns LHM with his father Robert, is especially enthusiastic about a new “cyber lounge” and business center the hotel is putting in place. The lounge allows guests free wireless access for their laptops, and specially designed furniture to comfortably accommodate their technology while they surf the Internet. It also features a “rapid charge station” where guests can juice up their cell phones quickly between meetings, and a 52” plasma TV to help them catch up on business and sports news.
The 3,000-square-foot business center will feature fax machines, color copiers and three dedicated terminals where guests can complete flight check-in and print boarding passes for three airlines — American, Southwest and Delta. There also will be postal, shipping, FedEx and UPS services available on-site.
Another bit of technology the hotel is offering is a “remote printing” service that allows guests to create documents from the comfort of their hotel rooms. “You can send a document from your computer in your room, and it will print at the business center,” O’Loughlin said. “At the center, you’ll receive a special code that will allow you to log in and retrieve your document.”
This and other business center services are offered free of charge, he said.
Multiple oases for meeting attendees
A full-service Starbucks will offer guests coffee and sustenance beginning this summer, and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car desk will put rental cars at their fingertips.
And there’s more to come, according to O’Loughlin. “At the end of this year, we will start on a full-service spa in or connected to the building. We may take the pool area and redesign it for that, or we may use other space,” he said. “We’re also considering making over some of the guest rooms into condominiums.”
The existing Pitchers restaurant is expected to remain, and a new bar is being added on the lobby’s Market Street side. Plans are afoot for additional restaurant space, which O’Loughlin said could be leased to a national chain. The previous front desk on the lobby’s east side and the Kinko’s copy center on the south side are no more. O’Loughlin said there are now three “island” reception desks where guests can check in and out. They are constructed of backlit glass, granite and wood with a dark wenge finish. The refurbished lobby now has more natural light and special glass to give guests the feeling they’re still outside, O’Loughlin said.
The hotel plans to partner with the Cardinals on game ticket packages, as well as with the Casino Queen nearby and the Six Flags theme park west of St. Louis. “We’ll do some promoting on KTRS Radio, and we plan on having the Cardinals mascot, Fred Bird, here at the hotel during the breakfast hour on 13 home-game dates. Kids will be able to get photos taken with him.” The hotel also is scheduling three dates for Six Flags’ Looney Tunes characters to appear at “character breakfasts.”
The dawning of the new Hilton is a homecoming of sorts for Steve O’Loughlin. He worked at the hotel in various roles including front desk manager, sales manager and housekeeping director for eight years beginning in 1989, when the property was the Marriott Pavilion.
“My dad always says the way an attraction like Six Flags keeps people coming back is to add another ride,” O’Loughlin said. “It’s the same thing with the hotel. Its new features will be another reason for planners to give downtown St. Louis a second look. There’s more to brag about, and more to sell.”
(Sarah Jamieson is the editorial assistant from St. Louis, MO)
(Photographs used in this article are courtesy of Tom Paule Photography)